Monday, 25 February 2013 03:42
“It is not just tutoring. It is much more than that,” says Beth Finnerty of the Strategies for Success (SFS) program which Cardinal McCloskey launched in 2008. SFS provides academic support and assistance to middle and high school students from the Bronx and Manhattan who are in the foster care system.
Finnerty views the program as critical for children in foster care, the overwhelming majority of whom historically have underachieved educationally and, as a consequence, have struggled to find success in later life. “Educational stability leads to placement stability,” she says. “If we can make it possible for them to succeed it is our obligation to do that.”
SFS provides focused educational guidance counseling and tutoring services tailored to the special needs and challenges of foster care youth. The program is designed to improve attendance and school performance despite the challenging circumstances children in foster care face. Each student develops an individual educational plan with staff that outlines the steps required to reach their goals. The program specifically offers guidance regarding academic performance and curriculum requirements, assists in the high school selection process, provides help with the transition to high school and explains graduation requirements, and provides group or individual counseling and advisement throughout.
“We tie it to the clinical plan,” says Finnerty. “The plan for academic success may include psychotherapy and assessing a child’s medication.”
Cardinal McCloskey began SFS with 7th to 10th graders and is now in the process of rolling it out to 5th and 6th graders. “We put a lot of emphasis on helping children and families pick the right high school,” says Finnerty. “We hired a consultant who is familiar with the City school system who can assist our parents and staff understand this process.”
The program is showing signs of significant success. Data compiled from a sampling of teens who have participated in the program from 2008 through 2011 showed the following results:
• 88% of youngsters who completed individual counseling were admitted to the high school of their choice;
• 69% of students had attendance problems before Strategies and 43.6% of these students improved their attendance by participating in the program; and
• Half of the students had failing grades prior to Strategies, and after providing targeted help, all of these students had passing grades.
“We didn’t have any dropouts in our foster care program,” says Finnerty. “It is the result of intensive work.”
Despite the importance of educational supports to children in foster care, Cardinal McCloskey has been forced to seek philanthropic funding to support the SFS program. Key support has come from the Al Smith Foundation. Earlier this year, the agency received two new grants in support of SFS from the New York Life and John P. and Constance A. Curran Charitable Foundations.