New program for foster teens offers mentors, graduation help

1/17/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

The statistics on foster teens are stark:

Less than half of teenagers in foster care graduate from high school;
One in five alumni of foster care will be homeless within a year of aging out. 

Starting this year, teenagers in the foster care system in Tacoma stand a better chance of breaking those patterns. The district started a new partnership with Treehouse, a nonprofit with a track record of helping foster youth graduate from high school at the same rate as their peers and with plans for their future. 

Through the Treehouse Graduation Success Program, foster youth in Tacoma Public Schools’ high schools can work one-on-one with Treehouse education specialists to create their own plan for high school graduation and beyond and build problem-solving and self-advocacy skills. Currently, Tacoma serves approximately 400 foster youth in the district, including about 88 high school students. 

Treehouse education specialists—acting as mentors and a stable presence in a foster teen’s life—also help foster teens connect to school and community resources such as tutoring, credit retrieval and college and career preparation. 

“Tacoma Public Schools is committed to every student, every day—and this means partnering with organizations to meet the needs of the whole child,” said Amanda Scott-Thomas, director of the District Community Partnership office. “Youth in foster care require extra and often distinct support, and Treehouse has the reputation as one of the best organizations in the state when it comes to serving youth in foster care.”

Foster teenagers face many barriers toward graduation. The average youth in foster care experiences three placement changes, resulting in six months of lost academic progress per move, according to Treehouse. 

“Teens that have been in the foster care system have a need for stability, both in school and home placement” said Lynda Hall, an associate director at Treehouse. “Treehouse provides an extensive support system to get youth in foster care to persist towards high school graduation and have a plan for post-secondary.” 

Treehouse, a Seattle-based nonprofit, holds a strong track record of success in King County. This year marks the organization’s first expansion, to both Tacoma and Spokane public schools. Highlights of Treehouse’s success includes:

68 percent of foster youth served by Treehouse graduate high school in four years (compared to 43 percent of all foster youth)
78 percent of foster youth served by Treehouse graduate high school in five years (compared to 49 percent of all foster youth)
89 percent of Treehouse youth graduate with a plan to enroll in college or vocational training. 

Rodney Robinson, manager of Treehouse education specialists in Tacoma, thanked the Tacoma community for “welcoming us with open arms,” in a recent Treehouse blog post. 

“Tacoma school staff have been very accommodating and welcoming, and we already feel like a part of their school cultures. Every one of my team members has been offered a dedicated work space in their schools where they can meet with students,” he said. “With all of this support from our local partners, our team is ready to make sure that youth in foster care have an equitable educational experience.”