More than 100 people came from all over Texas to listen and learn from panels featuring attorneys and social workers with the Texas Education Agency, Child Protective Services, CASA and the Judicial Commission for Children Youth and Families. Panels also included public school teachers, doctors and faculty of Southwestern Medical Center. There was even a panel featuring former foster children. This Symposium provided an opportunity to have a positive impact on members of the larger community who are powerless and who need our help.
The W.W. Caruth, Jr. Institute for Children’s Rights at the SMU Dedman School of Law hosted a two-day program -- Education Advocacy for Children in the Child Welfare System: A Symposium and Community Conversation.
Children in foster care face hurdles beyond the common student’s educational challenges. Foster children may face multiple residential and school changes, court appearances or other appointments during the school days, or may miss school days entirely to visit with parents and siblings. According to national studies, children in foster care are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school and score lower on statewide standardized tests. These students are also more likely to repeat a grade, are less likely to graduate, and are more likely to drop out of school entirely. The Texas Education Agency Public Education Information Management System reports that children in foster care in Texas are more likely to leave school because they dropped out, rather than graduate. These students also have lower high school achievements, are more likely to be in special education, and are less likely to be in the gifted and talented programs.
The Symposium opened the evening of Thursday, August 11, with a keynote address by Regina Calcaterra, The New York Times best-selling author of “Etched in Sand”. Ms. Calcaterra’s memoir details her story of resilience and determination, detailing how she and her siblings survived growing up homeless on Long Island. As a child in and out of foster care, she was often told that the only way out of her situation was to be part of the less than two percent of foster care children who graduate from college. She did just that, beating the odds to graduate from both college and law school to become a successful lawyer and policy-maker – and a continued advocate for children in and aging out of the child welfare system.
The second day of the Symposium on August 12, brought together multi-disciplinary presenters, participants, and stakeholders in the child welfare system: educators, health care providers, foster agencies, lawyers, social workers, foster parents, and former foster children. The goal of the Symposium was to provide a network for professionals dedicated to helping every child in foster care achieve his or her highest educational potential. The opening presentation was made by George Cannata, Regional Director of Child Protective Services’ Region 3.
The W.W. Caruth, Jr. Institute for Children’s Rights at the SMU Dedman School of Law has a mission to pursue innovative, bold theories and projects to address the fundamental, overarching challenges of child abuse and neglect. The Institute has set its current focus on education advocacy for children in the child welfare system. Diane M. Sumoski, Esq., the Director of the Institute as well as the Director and Supervising Attorney of SMU Law’s W.W. Caruth, Jr. Child Advocacy Clinic stated, “To plan this Symposium, we brought together a dedicated group of people working for organizations that are devoted to improving the educational success of children in the child welfare system. This Symposium is our collaborative effort answer the call of the Supreme Court of Texas Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families, to raise awareness, collaborate, educate, and, ultimately, make a difference in the lives of these children who constitute our future.”