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Law School helps launch Travis County Model Court Education Advocacy Pilot Project

The Law School’s William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law and Children’s Rights Clinic have helped develop a multi-stakeholder pilot education reform project focused on youth entering the child welfare system in Travis County. The Education Advocacy Pilot Project, an initiative of the Travis County Model Court for Children and Families, launched last week and will continue through the 2012–2013 school year.

The Travis County Model Court for Children and Families is a multidisciplinary community initiative that helps facilitate systemic improvement of the court and child welfare systems. The Model Court works to improve outcomes for children and families in Travis County who are involved in civil suits filed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as a result of findings of child abuse and neglect. The pilot project is an attempt to address some of the school-related challenges facing these youth, including timely enrollment and transfer of records between schools; early assessment of unmet academic and extracurricular needs; ensuring the accurate and timely flow of information to all relevant parties; and credit recovery.

“As a judge, I’m frustrated when I learn that a child in the child welfare system has been forced to move schools multiple times,” said State District Court Judge Darlene Byrne, lead judge for the Model Court. “I’m excited that dedicated professionals working with our Model Court in Travis County are tackling complex challenges to try to make a real difference in educational outcomes for children.”

The pilot will be limited to no more than twenty students who will be enrolled in Austin Independent School District middle and high schools following their initial contact with the dependency court. Students selected for the project will receive early appointment of specially trained court appointed special advocates to provide additional oversight during the many important school-related transitions that occur in the first few days and weeks after a child comes into care.

“CASA volunteers already advocate in schools for the best interest of the children we serve, so we are pleased to be exploring through this pilot project new trainings and efforts that can enhance the educational advocacy that children in the foster care system so badly need,” said Laura Wolf, executive director of CASA of Travis County. In addition to the court and CASA, key stakeholders in the project include AISD and Child Protective Services. The pilot project includes plans for data collection and an evaluation at the pilot’s completion.

Contact: Helen Gaebler, Senior Research Attorney, William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, 512-232-5439, hgaebler@law.utexas.edu

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