An article describing Residential Education and CORE’s advocacy trip to the Hill this past April was printed in the Associated Baptist Press this past week. Please take a look that this exciting article.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Celebrating Alternative Education Settings Serving At-Risk Youth
Washington, DC – Approximately 40 boarding schools and children’s homes for over 10,000 socially and economically disadvantaged youth across the United States will celebrate next Wednesday the third-ever National Residential Education Day. The celebration is part of a national effort to increase public awareness of “residential education” as a crucial option for at-risk youth.
Residential education (RE) programs are community-like settings where children severely challenged by homelessness, abuse, neglect, the child welfare system, and low-income, high-crime neighborhoods live and learn together, outside of their homes, within stable, supportive environments. The majority of children live on a campus, in single-family homes with a married couple and seven to ten other boys or girls. Other children, mostly in urban areas, live in boarding school-style dormitories with trained adult mentors. Whether called a preparatory program, children’s home, boarding or residential charter program, RE is a viable and important option for thousands of children nationwide, particularly teenagers who are often difficult to place in stable and nurturing foster care settings. In 2010, 79% of CORE-member residential education program graduates went on to attend two- and four-year colleges.
With an average length of stay of two years and funded privately or through a public-private partnership, residential education is a growing trend that transforms the lives of children on the margins.
Positioned within National Foster Care Month, National Residential Education Day seeks to increase recognition and understanding of the approximately 150 programs across the country that provide at-risk youth chances to live safe, productive, and meaningful lives. September 2006 federal foster care legislation was passed adding residential education as a valid placement option for children in the child welfare system, and as a viable alternative to traditional foster care homes.
“Kids need physical and emotional safety, and they need a quality education. They need the feeling of belonging to a nurturing community, a belief in self, and a structure to grow in,” says Heidi Goldsmith, executive director of Washington, DC-based CORE: the Coalition for Residential Education, the organization spearheading National Residential Education Day. “Ideally, that structure is a good family. But if that is not possible, kids need not what looks like a family, but what behaves like a healthy family.”
Programs in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and beyond are hosting open house events and on-campus parades and celebrations, instituting Advocacy Days to bring youth and alumni to speak with state policymakers, implementing letter-writing campaigns to state legislators, planning lecture series that further educate participants about residential education, reaching out to local media, and making “A Day in the Life of…” films to spread awareness of this valuable education alternative.
Milton Hershey School student, Arman Asemani says he made many mistakes as a 13-year old, but “then I got a second chance.” Hershey School was the first place where his classmates didn’t know how “messed up my parents were.” For the first time the parents of his classmates were not urging their children to avoid him. “I got a chance to reinvent myself,” said Asemani, a confident, bespectacled honor student. While he has detailed the burdens of his unstable life before he arrived at Milton Hershey School, Asemani says that they were nothing compared to what they would be “if residential education had not saved me from self-destruction.” Residential education is a great equalizer and when young people are in a group situation where “everyone is disadvantaged, suddenly no one has an excuse” to fail.
For more information on residential education and specific events occurring around the country, contact Aviva Braun at CORE: the Coalition for Residential Education, 301-656-6101 or visit www.residentialeducation.org.
On April 1, 2011, 7 alumni of CORE member programs, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress Sela Ward, and CORE’s Founder/ Executive Director Heidi Goldsmith, urged policymakers at the House of Representatives and the Senate to “Ensure Options for At-risk Youth: Preserving the “Residential Education as one ‘Tool in the Toolbox’ for youth in foster care, and other.
The message clear, and succinct, and almost anyone hearing the alumni’s superb and varied testimonies would agree with our premise: Youth need more, not fewer, options, as different solutions work for different youth. As the very gracious and beautiful Actress Sela Ward, the final panelist at our event at the US House of Representatives, said, “Why are we even having to ASK for permission to serve youth in this way? Of COURSE more options, including residential education programs, are needed!”
Presenters included 7 alumni ranging in age from 18 – 34, Sela Ward (and spontaneously her venture capital husband, “Pay now or pay even more later!” Howard), and Heidi Goldsmith. Two Congressmen showed up in person (we are told this rarely happens), and we are told that most of the staff on the relevant House subcommittee of Ways and Means came, despite it being very busy on the Hill that day, especially with budget negotiations.
Before and after the House panel, the delegation met with Senate staff.
Youth in the foster care system have few quality options available to them. One of these few options, ‘residential education,’ is facing increasingly severe challenges to being able to continue serving youth in this system. While there is no data to support this view, these programs are denigrated by some powerful child advocates as being harmful to youth. Some federal policymakers are considering legislation to further limit the ability of youth to attend these programs, and in many states the barriers to being able to serve youth in these settings are becoming insurmountable.
Seven alumni of residential education programs will share their personal stories, including their experiences in foster care and in these programs. Heidi Goldsmith, our Founder and Executive Director, and Actress Sela Ward, Founder of Hope Village, will speak about why keeping these residential education programs available to children is so important. The event will take place in the Rayburn House of Representatives Building, Room B-318, from 1 – 2 PM. If you can come, we would love for you to join us at this important event.
CORE member programs will gather on Capitol Hill on September 29 to showcase to policymakers and Administration officials what (and how) residential education programs offer youth, their families, and our communities — and how policymakers can ensure our programs’ continued effectiveness and best uses of resources.
CORE will also unveil the most recent findings from its national survey – the only one of its kind currently conducted – Residential Education in the U.S.: An Overview. The findings provide an overall landscape of the residential education field, including who is served by residential education programs, program models used, funding and referral sources, and compelling overall outcomes.
For more information, please contact the CORE office.
CORE is thrilled to announce a strengthened partnership with Bryan Samuels, Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he is currently serving as the federal head of foster care. CORE and its member programs will meet quarterly with Commissioner Samuels to discuss advocacy, outcomes measurement, research, and more.
Those who attended this year’s CORE National Conference will remember him as the inspiring and very effective closing keynote speaker.
We look forward to continuing our dialogue with him!
CORE looks forward to beginning a mutually-beneficial series of discussions at its upcoming National Conference (April 14-16 outside of Chicago) with keynote speaker Mr. Bryan Samuels, the newly-confirmed Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at HHS. Mr. Samuels spent eleven years living and learning at the Glenwood School for Boys and Girls, co-host of the CORE National Conference.
On February 12, the U.S. Senate confirmed Mr. Samuels in this position. As the HHS press release states, “His commitment to public service is largely motivated by his own success in overcoming great personal hardship during his eleven and a half years of growing up in a residential school for disadvantaged children. This experience helped shape his commitment to serve children who lived in foster care and reinforced his belief that dedicated people and well-designed programs can make a dramatic impact on the lives of at-risk youth.”
Mr. Samuels previously served as Chief of Staff for Chicago Public Schools, where he played a key role in managing the day-to-day operations of the third largest school system in the nation.
From 2003 to 2007, Mr. Samuels served as Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the nation’s third largest child welfare agency. In his role, Mr. Samuels implemented comprehensive assessments of all children entering care; redesigned transitional and independent living programs to prepare youth transitioning to adulthood; created a child location unit to track runaway youth; and introduced evidence-based services to address the impact of trauma and exposure to violence on children in state care. As a result, DCFS established the lowest caseload ratios for case managers in the nation; reduced the number of youth “on run” by 40 percent and number of days “on run” by 50 percent; decreased the use of residential treatment or group homes by 20 percent; and eliminated the number of past due child protection investigations by 60 percent.
Prior to this, Mr. Samuels taught at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration while also providing technical assistance to state and local governments to improve human service delivery to vulnerable populations.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says, “Bryan Samuels has devoted his career to working on behalf of children, youth and families. His distinguished career in public service has been guided by his personal experience growing up in a residential school for disadvantaged children. He is committed to making a difference in the lives of at-risk children, and will be an outstanding leader at the Administration for Children and Families.”
CORE looks forward to welcoming Mr. Samuels at its 2010 National Conference.
A new study by Duke University of approximately 3,000 orphans ages 6-12 in Africa and Asia suggests that institutional care for orphans produces no less happy and healthy children, and outcomes are in fact “generally better” for orphans and abandoned children raised in orphanages than with kin or in foster care. It is one of the most comprehensive studies of orphans ever conducted, and looks at the health, behavior, physical growth, intellectual functioning, and emotional state of orphans – 1,357 of whom grew up in small and large orphanages, and 1,480 in kinship and foster care programs.
“We are seeing children thriving in institutions…What people don’t understand is that, in many cases, the institutions are the community’s response to caring for orphaned and abandoned children,” says study leader Kathryn Whetten, director of the Center for Health Policy at the Duke Global Health Institute.
“These communities love kids and as parents die, children are left behind. So, the individuals who love children most and want to care for them build a building and that becomes an institution. These institutions do not look or feel like the images that many in this country have of eastern bloc orphanages, they are mostly places where kids are being loved and cared for and have stable environments.”
“This is not the time to be creating policies that shut down good options for kids. We need to have as many options as possible,” says Whetten. “Our research just says ‘slow down and let’s look at the facts.’ It’s assumed that the quality of care-giving is a function of being institutionalized, but you can change the care-giving without changing the physical building.”
“Let’s get beyond labeling an institution as good or bad,” she says. “What is the quality of care inside that building, and how can we help the community identify cost-feasible solutions that can be delivered in small group homes, large group homes, and family homes?”
The New York Times reviewed the Duke study: “One [orphanage] in Battambang, Cambodia had 252 children living in 27 traditional Khmer homes inside a ‘large, airy, well-maintained gated compound’ with gardens, a basketball court, a playground, and plenty of open space. The people caring for the children had been orphans themselves or were widows, and the orphanage tried to make sure each child had at least one ‘parent and sibling.’”
The Duke study also prompted a Wall Street Journal editorial by orphanage alumnus Dr. Richard McKenzie, who attests to the positive impact the experience had on his and other alumni’s lives. CORE encourages you to also join the conversation by following the link below to comment on his editorial and share your thoughts about giving destitute children the chance to grow up in a larger (compared to a traditional family) residential, education-focused setting!
- “A Comparison of the Wellbeing of Orphans and Abandoned Children Ages 6–12 in Institutional and Community-Based Care Settings in 5 Less Wealthy Nations” – Duke University 12/18/09
- “The Best Thing About Orphanages” – Richard McKenzie in The Wall Street Journal 1/14/10
- “Study Suggests Orphanages Are Not So Bad” – New York Times 12/17/09
A tremendous victory for vulnerable children in North Carolina, S.L. 2009-408 was signed into law by Governor Perdue on August 5 – hopefully a pioneering state legislation that will be replicated in other states.
S.L. 2009-408 recognizes residential education as a valid placement option when children cannot be reunited with families, regardless of the child’s age.
The bill reads, “…the State recognizes there are instances when protecting a child’s welfare outweighs reunifying the family unit, and as such, the care of residential care facilities providing high quality services that include meeting the children’s educational needs as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services can satisfy the standard of protecting a child’s welfare, regardless of the child’s age, particularly when the sibling groups can be kept intact.”
We thank Dr. Phyllis Crain, executive director of Crossnore School in North Carolina and CORE Board member, for her tireless dedication to ensuring the passage of this bill.