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Report Co-authored by UT Law Affiliates Evaluates Travis County’s Educational Advocacy Pilot Project

A recent report evaluating an educational advocacy pilot project in Travis County makes recommendations for improving educational outcomes for youth entering the child welfare system in the county. The report, which was co-authored by a clinical professor and a research attorney at The University of Texas School of Law, was issued by the Travis County Model Court for Children and Families, a multidisciplinary group that helps facilitate systemic improvement of the court and child welfare systems.

Lori Duke, clinical professor in UT Law’s Children’s Rights Clinic, and Helen Gaebler, senior research attorney in the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, co-chaired the pilot project committee and authored the report with research assistance from Therese Edmiston, ’13.

The pilot, which ran during the 2012-13 academic year, attempted to address some of the school-related challenges facing youth in foster care, including timely enrollment and transfer of school records; early assessment of unmet academic and extra-curricular needs; ensuring accurate and timely flow of information to all relevant parties; and academic credit recovery.

“The work of the education committee has given us a better understanding of the many challenges that come with coordinating across complex systems on behalf of a child in the child welfare system,” said Travis County District Court Judge Darlene Byrne, who was the lead judge for the Model Court. “The Model Court has implemented a number of changes already, based on the report’s findings, and will continue to serve as a catalyst for improving educational outcomes for children.┬áThe entire community benefits from the university’s commitment to partnering with the Model Court on these significant issues.”

Key stakeholders in the project included the Austin Independent School District and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Travis County (CASA), whose staff and volunteers served as the specially designated education advocates for the participating children.

The pilot project is part of a growing national conversation around improving educational support for this population of youth, and has already resulted in concrete changes, including a new policy of early appointment of CASA by the court, and designating CASA the official education advocate in the case.

Other report recommendations include having school districts appoint campus-based foster liaisons for all schools, providing expanded access to electronic databases to improve real time monitoring of student grades and attendance, and calling on the Model Court to continue to facilitate dialogue across school district boundaries to better coordinate resources and support for youth who move between districts.

Read the full report online: “Travis County Model Court for Children & Families: Report and Recommendations from the Education Advocacy Pilot”

For more information, 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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