Success in School
Alberta Education and Alberta Children's Services work together to improve educational outcomes and high school completion rates for children and youth in provincial government care.
Currently, educational achievement results for children and youth in care are below the general student population. More children and youth in care:
- do poorly on achievement tests
- fall farther behind in school as they get older
- drop out of school
- do not graduate from high school
The Success in School framework
Success in School (SIS) is a framework to allow local partners to meet local needs. This helps school authorities and Alberta's Children's Services work together at the local level with:
- the child or youth
- their caregivers
- other appropriate partners
The goal of these groups is to share information and plan for the educational success of these children.
The role of the ministries
To help at-risk children and youth, the ministries of Alberta Education and Alberta Children's Services are working to:
- increase broad-based supports
- improve educational outcomes
- improve high school completion rates
“Success in School for Children and Youth in Care” is an initiative by the ministries of Alberta Education and Alberta Children's Services. It creates a framework to support success in school for children and youth in care. For partners who are working together to support children and youth in care, this framework:
- clarifies processes and practices
- outlines roles and responsibilities
- provides a foundation
This is the basis for creating local regional agreements between:
- School authorities
- Child and Family Services Authorities
Where appropriate, other partners can be an important part of these agreements, including:
- Delegated First Nation Agencies
- Alberta Health Services
This framework and agreements enable these partners to create a core team of support. This is to share information and engage in joint planning and decision-making.
Why this is important
Children and youth in care are a vulnerable group of young people. They can have extraordinary needs due to their circumstances.
The educational results (1997-2007) for children and youth in care compared to all Alberta students show:
- Fewer children and youth in care complete high school. Those who do, take longer to do so when compared with other Alberta students
- The average provincial achievement test results are lower for children and youth in care in all grades and subjects. The gap widens from Grades 3 to 6, and again at Grade 9, at both the acceptable and excellence levels
- More children and youth in care (Grades 1 to 9) need special education support
The SIS initiative helps focus on these students in purposeful ways to improve educational outcomes.
Alberta Children's Services and Alberta Education drafted and revised the framework. This was based on:
- engagement with partners
- review of research and current best practices
- learnings from 4 demonstration sites in urban, rural and Aboriginal communities
The 4 demonstration sites field tested the draft framework. They noted strengthened relationships between children and youth in care and their core support team. These teams consist of the students, their caseworkers, teachers, caregivers and other professionals.
The SIS framework aligns with current practices. It provides more tools for the teacher and caseworker. Strategies within the framework include joint planning. This means including supporting partners in addressing the child or youth's needs. This allows teachers and caseworkers to be proactive and inclusive. This has been noted to save time by avoiding crisis management.
It is important to focus on all children and youth in care and not wait for obvious signs of difficulty. The provincial education data reinforces the need to be proactive and work together.
Learning challenges are more common in children and youth in care. These include language or academic delays and emotional or behavioural concerns. This is often due to the traumatic or neglectful situations that brought them into care.
It is important to encourage and acknowledge all children and youth in care to do well and to recognize their achievements. This creates positive impacts for them and their families when successes are celebrated.
Completion of these plans is not intended as a duplication of Individualized Program Plans (IPPs). The SIS plan has holistic goals. It also has information outlining who to contact and involve in specific situations. The SIS plan also recognizes that the entire core team has a role to play in implementing the plan.
The IPP and SIS plans can work together and refer to each other to prevent duplication. For example:
- if academic information is included in the IPP, the academic section of the SIS plan can say: See IPP, see report card
- the SIS plan may also include some academic actions specific to the SIS plan such as the foster parent accessing tutoring services
The IPP can refer to goals and actions identified in the SIS plan, as a cross reference
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Team approach – Working Together
Working Together results in powerful relationships and collaborations. Collaborative relationships are critical for supporting young people in care.
Working Together successfully
One way to measure successful collaboration is when a child or youth in care is adapting and thriving in school and in life.
Creating a successful core team takes time, effort and commitment. The relationships that we create are strongest when built upon trust, knowledge and shared goals. Everyone involved is impacted in a positive way through the creation of powerful relationships and collaborations. Such relationships are critical for helping young people in care.
The student’s strengths, needs, hopes and dreams help to determine who should participate in collaborative team meetings. Team members surrounding a young person in care can include a variety of people such as the caseworker, caregiver(s), families, school point person, school principal, counsellor, classroom teacher and others as appropriate. Some students may wish to include a person they feel close to as part of their team, such as a trusted teacher, support staff, coach, friend or community member. By helping children and youth in care in a positive and proactive way, the team is not only helping to prevent crises in their lives but also helping the students become independent, capable, confident individuals who experience success in school and in life.
The following strategies are based on research and successful practices and are intended to assist communities and teams as they plan together to help young people in care.
Build strong relationships
- Host a get-together with local agencies that serve children, youth and families to connect and share information about roles and responsibilities.
- Talk with each other and learn about your partners’ work. Confirm your joint commitment to collaborate in helping students in care be successful in school.
- Agree to involve and listen to young people in care - and set goals and objectives with them.
- Evaluate progress regularly and work on issues or conflicts that may occur.
- Build trust by sharing successes through notes, phone calls, emails, etc., and by meeting regularly to celebrate those successes.
- Talk about barriers to information sharing ahead of time.
- Sharing information about past assessments, school experiences, critical incidents and medical diagnosis is important for supporting appropriate school programming decisions. Such information can also help to provide supports for the young person at home and in the community.
- Where appropriate, share information about significant experiences in the young person’s life so the team can better understand difficult behaviours or emergent needs.
- Discuss your roles and mandates in regards to sharing information. Alberta Children's Services' Information Sharing Strategy is an excellent resource for the team as members work to understand and resolve information sharing questions.
- To ensure appropriate levels of supervision and protection of all, it is important to share current or prior behavioural needs that may pose a risk to the young person in care or someone else.
- Discuss other community resources that can be accessed to support the young person.
- Share information about the strengths and challenges of the young person in care from each person’s or system’s perspective.
- Determine methods to share information on an ongoing basis.
- Inform the team about any caseworker or caregiver change and provide contact information.
Prepare the student in care for team meetings
- Have a trusted adult talk with the student in care prior to the collaborative team meeting to explain the purpose of the meeting and reinforce that this a meeting to plan for the student’s success. Remind the student that their input is important to help make school a positive experience.
- Ask the young person about aspects of school that they likes and about any challenges with school. Ask about their hopes and goals and how the team can help with achieving those goals.
- Ask the young person to think about what they would like the team members to know about them and to think of any questions they might have for the team. The young person may want to put this in writing or ask an adult to pose the questions on their behalf.
Running the meetings
Beginning the meetings
Before the meeting, ask if there are cultural protocols that need to be followed and allow time for this in the meeting process.
Consider having refreshments or a simple snack for the team to help make the atmosphere more relaxed and informal. The student might like to help prepare the snack as a contribution to the meeting.
Consider the purpose of the meeting and invite only those who are necessary. Having too many adults can be overwhelming for students or create an atmosphere of discomfort for them and/or their caregivers. Larger numbers of participants can contribute to the length of the meeting and reduces opportunities to speak.
Take time to introduce each member of the team. When meeting for the first time, have each member tell a bit about themselves and their relationship with the student. Ensure the young person knows who everyone is and their role in helping with their success.
Talk about the purpose of the meeting. Describe everyone’s roles and the process that will be followed, including who is chairing, who will keep notes and who will act as timekeeper.
Engaging the young person
Remind the team that the meeting is about the strengths, hopes and needs of the student in care, and about determining how the team will work together to help the young person achieve their goals.
Encourage the young person to talk about their hopes, dreams and goals for their education and school-related activities. Be sure to listen and ask questions for clarification without reacting negatively or challenging what they are saying. Focus on the positive.
Planning for success
Share contact information and various ways of reaching each team member to ensure ease of communication.
At the end of the first meeting, set future meeting dates when applicable. Delegate a team member to arrange the meeting logistics and send reminders to the rest of the team.
When possible, combine the collaborative team meetings with other meetings such as student/parent/teacher conferences or IPP discussions. Caseworkers could arrange for concurrent plan discussions to occur immediately prior to, or after the school success meeting for the convenience of those involved. School staff would typically not be involved in these discussions.
At the meeting
Record decisions and agreed-upon actions of the team including who is responsible to follow up with each action. Provide copies to each team member after the meeting.
Allow time at the end of the meeting for questions or comments and to thank everyone for participating.
Make time at least once a year for the team to celebrate successes. In a relaxed setting, review the year’s accomplishments and discuss suggestions for the future. Take time to celebrate the successes of the students and the good work of the team.
Acknowledging and celebrating success of the student
Some acknowledgement of successes may be as simple as a note or a phone call, while other celebrations could involve a small gift or going out together for a special event.
Special recognition for important successes
Events such as completing high school deserve special recognition and the celebration of success should be a collaborative effort of the team.
Some regions host a lunch or dinner with guest speakers where they take the opportunity to honour each young person in care who has graduated with a special ceremony. Other regions give a gift of significance to the young person, including a cultural component where applicable, such as involvement of elders or a gift of an eagle feather or blanket. Youth in care should be supported by their caregivers and caseworkers to attend their high school graduation events as any other graduating student.
Engaging positively with young people in care
Adults in the lives of children and youth can help build positive and healthy relationships with them. Youth in care say:
- "Make us feel important and take an interest in our lives.”
- “You need to be ‘real’ in order for us to want to talk to you.”
- “Without making it too obvious, pull me aside at some point and talk to me. Ask me what I need, rather than trying to guess.”
- “There are a lot of adults in my life that I’m ‘supposed’ to talk to and trust. But that’s not the same as trusting someone … just because of who they are.”
- “Even though I want to blend in, I want to stand out … not for being in foster care, but for being special, funny and interesting.”
Here are some ways to support educational success for young people in care.
Kind-spirited humour goes a long way with young people. It shows that you can relax and enjoy life and relationships. Find things to laugh about together. Some young people like telling jokes, and pre-teens and teenagers enjoy learning how to use humour appropriately in social situations. Laughing at yourself and your own mistakes shows humility and makes you seem real and more approachable.
Don’t give up
Many youth in care express appreciation later on in life for adults that ‘hung in with them’ during difficult times in their lives.
Make appropriate, professional self-disclosures
Personal disclosures such as stories about your pet, favourite sports team or personal passions create opportunities to talk in general and can help identify common interests.
Invest time and attention in the young person when no crisis is happening
Then, if a crisis arises, your assistance will be welcomed.
Help young people in care develop healthy boundaries about how much personal information they share with others
Although abuse or neglect is often implied if in care, be wary of asking for personal information about the past that is not necessary to developing a meaningful relationship.
Avoid making assumptions
Making assumptions about how the young person feels or what they want will disrupt your relationship.
Be honest and upfront. Keep your promises.
There is a lot of unavoidable bureaucracy that young people in care have to deal with. It is important to keep it simple and commit to promises.
Find ways to offer support without making the young person stand out
Young people in care want to blend in and be treated like everyone else.
Engage with Student's Goals and Interests
Talk about all areas of the young person’s life such as friends, school, interests, activities and culture
The young person has much more going on in their life than being a child or youth in care.
Engage the young people in discussions about how to achieve their goals
Young people often have semi-developed goals for their future. Even if you believe their dream is far-fetched (e.g., playing in the NHL, becoming a singer or movie-star), help break down their goals into smaller, more manageable tasks that get them involved at school or in the community (e.g., joining a hockey team, arranging voice lessons, taking a role in a school play).
Talk with the young person in terms of future success
Use clear language to communicate your expectation that they will graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary education or work training.
Respectfully point out how choices or actions may get in the way of goals.
Prior to the first team meeting, explain the purpose of the meeting and who will be there.
- Focus on the positive intent of the meeting.
Ask the young person if there is anyone they want to invite to the team meeting as personal support.
- Think outside the box in terms of who may have a strong connection with the young person, such as a former teacher or coach. Acknowledge possible feelings of powerlessness on the part of the young person about the people who will attend the team meeting. Understand that there may be relationships with some of the adults in their lives that impact their sense of trust in this process.
Look for opportunities to build on their strengths.
- Use challenges as a learning opportunity. Keep the SIS Plan focused on positives. If the young person is excelling in a subject area, find out if they would be willing to assist a peer or younger students in that subject.
Use challenges as a learning opportunity.
- Talk about personal motivation, changing interests and where to get assistance in achieving goals.
As a team, remember to stay on task.
- Ask, “How can we more fully support this child?” and “What are we doing that is going to make a difference?”
Work together to identify who can provide additional support.
- This is particularly important if a young person is struggling in a subject area.
Develop a plan with the young person about managing stressful situations.
- The plan should include identifying warning signs and early intervention strategies.
Arrange a meeting between a young person and the appropriate cultural liaison for the school, when appropriate.
- A cultural liaison person can help to support the young person in connecting to their heritage or may be aware of other supports available.
Talk with the young person about their experience of safety at school and in the community.
- Help them to find ways of dealing with issues related to bullying, racism or negative peer pressure.
Identify who in the school will go out of their way to check in with the young person on a regular basis. This person should look for opportunities to make the young person feel special and unique.
- This includes greeting the young person in the hall, making suggestions about ways to get involved in school activities, or asking for their help with school tasks. Consider the potential of the full school team, including teachers, teaching assistants, principals, coaches, office assistants, counsellors and school volunteers.
Invite the young person to participate in school activities or events.
- Don’t assume that the young person knows about the opportunities to get involved. They may lack the confidence to take the initiative to try out or join.
Be innovative in developing opportunities for participation.
- You might find a new group, club or sports team at the school that appeal to the young person (for instance, a book club reading the latest teenage book series). What are the untapped possibilities for this young person at this school?
Ensure the young person has various outlets for expression.
- Some examples are counselling, art supplies, access to music or musical instruments, sports, and notebooks or a journal.
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