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Fostering Opportunities Program Improves Outcomes

Fostering Opportunities Program Improves Graduation Rates & Outcomes for Students Living in Foster Care
Posted on 02/23/2023

In Colorado, only one in four students who experience foster care during high school graduate with their class. In response, the Fostering Opportunities program was developed and piloted in Jeffco Public Schools, in partnership with Jefferson County Human Services through an innovative form of social financing called Pay for Success.

The collaborative, multidisciplinary approach of Jeffco Public Schools (Jeffco) Fostering Opportunities program has shown a 26% increase in students who were currently or formerly in foster care on track to graduate high school. It is the only approach proven to improve educational outcomes for middle school and high school students living in foster care. This result far exceeded the Pay for Success “highest level of success” goal of achieving a 10% improvement.

Launched in 2021 to address the low graduation rate of students living in foster care, the Community First Foundation grant-supported program has impacted approximately 130 students in grades 6-12, demonstrating statistically significant improvements in school attendance rates and reduced behavioral incidents for participating students. The program was created and piloted by Jeffco in partnership with Jefferson County Human Services. 

The Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab conducted the randomized controlled trial to determine the effectiveness of Fostering Opportunities that led to the 26% improvement in the rate of students who were currently or formerly in foster care and had access to the Fostering Opportunities program being on track to graduate, compared to the control group. “These numbers match the incredible stories we have heard over the years of how the Fostering Opportunities program is changing young people's lives,” said Elysia V. Clemens, PhD, LPC and deputy director of the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab with the University of Denver.

What does this mean for foster care students in the program?

  • Increased likelihood to graduate with their class
  • Improved attendance
  • Fewer suspensions

“I have never felt more noticed or listened to than when I learned I could be in this program,” said one student who participated in the Jeffco Fostering Opportunities program. “Going into foster care took so many things away from me, which sucked... but I gained the support of the program and without that, I don’t know where I would be now… I probably would’ve quit school… yeah, maybe in trouble or something. But [the Specialist] kept showing up for me and believing in me and telling me I could be better, so I guess I started to believe it. She got on my nerves with her positivity but I get it, and I am grateful.”

The program credits success on three core elements: 

  1.  Youth-serving agencies coordinate efforts, aligning and opening up communications between child welfare, education, and other youth-serving agencies.
  2. Systems track and support students across placements and schools, actively identifying students eligible for the program.
  3. Education “Specialists” work directly with students as dedicated mentors that provide academic and social-emotional support, advocate on their behalf, teach them how to advocate for themselves, and help them to build a reliable network of support in the school environment and beyond. 

Fostering Opportunities is Colorado’s first-ever state funded Pay for Success project. This approach to public funding relies on philanthropic funding to test promising interventions, ensuring that taxpayer dollars are directed to proven practices. Community First Foundation invested $789,000 in the project and once agreed-upon goals were met, the state of Colorado repaid the Foundation its initial investment plus $10,600 in interest.

“Pay for Success is an innovative way to pay for social services to help governments target their limited dollars to achieve positive, measurable outcomes,” said Ken Kirwin, chief financial officer and chief operating officer for Community First Foundation. “We had confidence in our partners’ ability to develop and deliver the program with measurable and evidence-based outcomes. Now, the program is being replicated in other communities in our state. Students are benefitting and so are our communities.”  

Colorado’s Foster Care Success Act (HB22-1374) provides the resources needed to sustain this program in Jeffco in perpetuity. It also makes it possible for additional school districts to adopt the Fostering Opportunities program in the 2023-24 school year.

State funding to support implementation and ongoing programming specific to Fostering Opportunities has been appropriated through HB22-1374 for program expansion. The Department is awarding up to $500,000 in state fiscal year (SFY) 2022-23 and around $1.1 million in FY 2023-24 to support human services agencies and school districts interested in implementing this intervention.

An information memo issued by the Colorado Department of Human Services provides additional information on the program and how school districts interested in implementing the program can apply.  Applicants and funding will be selected based on district need, local foster care population, and geographic diversity.

Partners in the project include: Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth and Families; Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab; Colorado Governor’s Office of State Budgeting and Planning; Community First Foundation; Jefferson County Human Services; and Jeffco Public Schools.

Learn more about the Fostering Opportunities program.

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