Action Plan


for


Children’s Academies of America


(A Home for Children Living in Long-Term Foster Care) 


Designed by Katherine Reddick, PhD

Organizational Psychologist

Former Foster Child & Reformer of Foster Care



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Children’s Academy “model” (will be referred to as “The Academy” throughout this document) was created to provide children living in long-term foster care a safe, nurturing environment that meets their developmental, emotional, spiritual, and academic needs in ways that prepares each child for successful future in American society. This endeavor has been a 20 year effort to transform America’s foster care system from one that “stores” America's children to one that “saves”. 


The general name “Children’s Academy” was purposely created to allow corporations, philanthropists, and other organizations to support an academy in their area.  By placing their name in front of “…Children’s Academy” it demonstrates their commitment to enhance and maintain the academy’s quality of services in their community.


The Academy will initially provide 24 hour care for approximately sixty children in an environment that incorporates the best practices of boarding schools with the warmth and care often found in a natural home environment by creating small groups of eight or fewer. Additionally, each academy will include a separate preschool developmental center to be used for infants and children up to 5 years of age who could not be placed in a traditional foster home.  Additionally, the preschool can ensure siblings of all ages are kept together on a daily basis and for celebrating special occasions that build family bonds. The preschool will also be an effective tool for developing parenting skills in older children as they can intern with adults to learn child development, safety protocols, and positive behavior techniques . Siblings will remain together and every effort will be made to nurture strong family bonds.  All children will be prepared with a goal to find a “forever family”  through our adoption program that prepares them for a successful adoption experience. 


The Academy will provide every child with ongoing counseling services, a high quality academic education, conflict management skills, social communications training, relationship and parenting skills, and a long-term career and/or college preparation program. Each child will have a long-term emancipation exit plan that supports their successful independence as they transition towards adoption or adulthood. 


Collectively, the programs are designed to help each child overcome their unique and specific challenges forced upon them by neglect and abuse, or factors outside of their control.  As a former foster child, current school principal and organizational psychologist, I have accumulated unlimited knowledge and experiences necessary to design this inspiring environment that helps foster children recover from the past and move forward to formulate and accomplish their “American Dream”. 


Although my experiences have driven me to this purpose, a team of experts is needed to develop all possible options for saving America's Foster Children.  Your expertise, knowledge, or funding will allow the movement named "Save Us Too" to rescue hundreds of thousands of America's "hidden" children and ensure they are no longer abused and neglected by America's foster care system.  The data provide below will

demonstrate a great need massive reform within the foster care system.


MISSION AND VISION STATEMENTS

Mission: Save America’s foster children from ongoing abuse, neglect, and social injustice by securing their safety and guiding them towards a prosperous future.

Vision: Ensure abused and neglected children in America receive equitable liberties and justices pledged to all American children.  Secure their safety and provide them with equality by safeguarding their social, emotional, spiritual, educational, and developmental needs take priority in all aspects of their custodial care.


STATEMENT OF NEED

According to the AFCARS Report dated July 2015 which according their statement “missing data are excluded from each table” therefore may not reflect the total number of children in foster care or accurate demographics (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration of Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb). 


However, the data provides an eye-opening picture of the need for The Academies.  A summary of the report is provided below.

For example, on Sept. 30 2014:

Number of children in foster care: 415,129

Number of children waiting to be adopted: 107, 918

Number of children waiting to be adopted whose parental rights were recently terminated (Oct.1- Sept. 30): 60,898

Reunification Case Plan Goal with parents or principal caregiver: 218, 889 (55%)  The report doesn’t provide the number of children returned or number of times children were returned to foster care as a result of an unsuccessful reunification.


Race/Ethnicity

Black or African American: 97, 540 (24%)

Hispanic: 90,299 (22%)

White: 174,477 (42%)

Unknown or Unable to Determine: 39,926 (10%)

Other races were (less than or equal to) ≥ (2%)


Length of Time in Foster Care

Number of children ˃ 18 months in care

Less than 1 month: 22,129

1-5 months: 94,358

6-11 months: 83,978

12-17 months: 62,447

Number of children (greater than) ˂18months: 152,204

Of those:

18 - 23 months: 39,620

24 – 29 months: 29,401

30 – 35 months: 18,833

3 – 4 years: 36,292

5 years or more 28,058

Although the data doesn’t reflect all children in the system; the numbers reported are staggering and reflect a need to help these children develop in an environment where they can find a “sense of belonging” build their self-confidence, and develop into well-educated, loving adults.  


FOSTER HOMES AND ACADEMIES

This is not to say foster homes cannot achieve these developmental and social goals especially for infants and young children and those in short-term care.  There are many loving and nurturing foster homes across American and their services, love and commitment they provide to children in their care is highly valued and indispensable.

The Academies will ease the enormous burden to find foster families which can lead to poor selection processes, inadequate training, separates siblings, and increases the chances of additional traumas for children who are “stored” in an abusive or unkind foster home.  

However, there is no replacement for a kind, loving home with foster parents who truly value their role and responsibility to ensure their home is a welcoming environment from which children thrive and learn.

In addition to relieving the excessive use of foster homes, the Academies are designed to keep siblings together, meet the developmental needs of the “whole child”, teach positive behaviors, build self-esteem and purpose, and help them prepare for independence throughout their adulthood.    The education children receive at the Academies will be superior and help each child achieve the same level of success of other school-age peers, as well as, surpass the requirements within regular public education.  

For example, in addition to regular educational requirements, the Academies will provide in-depth parenting classes, relationship and character development, finance and budgeting, travel, and other life-skills. . Each young adult exiting our care will be provided a four year exit plan which they help create, implement, and monitor so they experience success and a clear vision before they leave our care.  Each plan will include developing a variety of trade skills and talents which will be enhanced through a community internship program. These programs will be complete and give them the skills necessary for immediate employment upon emancipation.

  For those who select a college education, the Academies will guide them to achieve their AA prior to exiting and their emancipation plan will include paid access to a bachelor’s degree through scholarships and grants. Finally, all young adults will be offered a gradual release program in which they receive addition support through transitional housing, financial support and guidance, problem-solving skills, and counseling services as they move towards total independence by the age of twenty. 

In summary, foster homes and academies are necessary if we are to meet the emotional, psychological, developmental, and educational needs of every child.  Foster homes and academies each have unique and specialized purpose for the children they serve.  One is not better or worse than the other when children are matched to the best placement based on their unique needs and strengths.  To say one is better than the other should only be considered after identifying the long-term plan and needs for each child.  

The advantages to having both allows social workers to have choices when determining what is truly in the best interest of the child who is likely going to spend years in the foster care system.  Although neither is preferred over a loving home with biological parents, the reality is there are many children who will never experience permanent reunification.  Those children needing long-term foster care and multiple services will not receive many of the in-depth services they need simply do to time constraints of social workers and logistical challenges that prevent continuous and consistent services.


PROGRAMS AND SERVICES

Emotional and Psychological Services

Children who have experienced traumatic events often need to process their experiences and learn not to become victims of those events. Each child will be assessed and monitored throughout their stay to measure progress and minimize long-term residual effects stemming from child abuse and violence. Individual and small group therapy will support children’s emotional development and enhance their independent ability to self-monitor their emotions and develop positive behaviors to replace what they previously learned from dysfunctional parents or caregivers. Long-term counseling will help ensure appropriate responses and positive behaviors become instinctive and natural processes for problem-solving and during times of stress.


BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION

Children who have experienced trauma survived because they utilized a variety of behaviors and thinking processes that may not be effective socially, physically, emotionally, and they often prevent healthy child development. Through long-term and consistent behavioral modifications which are supported by choices and boundaries, children will learn to effectively self-monitor and learn to interact with others in positive ways. Positive behaviors will be reinforced with praise and other external rewards as an effective approach to helping children experience internal satisfaction and feelings of success. Eventually, external rewards will be less valuable to them as they transition towards placing a higher value on positive internal rewards such as experiencing positive internal praise and feelings of success. Their new mindset about themselves will also improve their “sense of belonging” and give them motivation to continuous progress in other areas of life.

Conflict management training and the development of systematic processes to help each child learn to independently problem-solve a variety of situations will give them life-long skills. Effective conflict management techniques will be modeled among staff and transferred to all children so it becomes a deeply embedded natural process for problem-solving. 


EDUCATION

The academy will provide educational opportunities superior to a traditional public education to support the special needs of foster children.  Oftentimes, foster children haven’t been provided the same educational opportunities as other school-age peers due to their frequent movement and lack of educational opportunities. As a result, they are frequently two or more years behind their peers in vocabulary, reading, writing, and math and sciences. The academy will ensure all students receive a quality education that allows them to overcome deficits and exceed traditional educational expectations. 

Dr. Reddick is a certified school principal and superintendent and will direct the academies educational programs as a board member to obtain charter school status in order to receive educational funding from federal, state, and local sources. An educational team will be developed to identify a quality academic curriculum and other opportunities to support student success which will include classrooms, a library, science lab, music and arts, technology, workshop, indoor and outdoor recreation areas.

Each student will be assessed for their academic readiness which will identify weaknesses and strengths from which to begin closing educational gaps and deficiencies while enhancing areas of strength. Each student will receive an individual educational plan that is supervised by a “student success team” of professionals who will regularly monitor all areas of the child’s developmental plan. The team will include a psychologist, behavior management specialist, at least one teacher, and other staff who work closely with the child. Older children will participate in monitoring and assessing their individual progress along with the team in order to keep them intrinsically motivated by including them in the process. Inclusion into the process ensures each child understands the importance of goal setting, monitoring progress, making adjustments as needed, and celebrating the small or large victories. Again, this is one more way to build confidence and problem-solving skills as a way to ensure long-term independence and success throughout their adult lives.

Finally, as students move into high school and have demonstrated academic, behavioral, and social success they will be given the choice to attend public school.  Should they choose this path, they will be closely monitored to ensure continuous growth in all areas of their academic and social development.  They will continue to receive advanced services at the academy and participate as a member of their goal-setting team to develop and refine job and life skills which support a successful transition into college, trade-school, or another career path that leads to independence.  The adolescent years are key for students to refine their “American Dream” and believe they too, can succeed.  By now, they should have experienced many successes and learned they accomplished those achievements through hard work and dedication. 


SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY & SOCIALIZATION WITHIN THE COMMUNITY

Students will develop an understanding of U.S. History, The Constitution, government processes at all levels, and effective processes and procedures for creating positive social change. Their experiences and competencies will be solidified through ongoing real-life opportunities to participate in leadership roles, elections, and creating laws (rules), and actions through a student council and having a student body that monitors student leadership and initiates change through the voting process.

As students become a strong unit within the academy, they will create relationships with organizations who work to support community needs and will volunteer to support their efforts.  It is important that students develop a sense of community through shared experiences that develop positive relationships between our children and the community.  This kind of repeated exposure will help them develop a sense of belonging to the community and through shared respectful interactions some may find permanent adoptive homes.


PREPARING FOR EMANCIPATION

Preparing adolescents for a successful transition into adulthood is critical and must be implemented systematically and intensified from age fourteen through eighteen or until they leave our care upon high school graduation. These progressive experiences will include authentic job internship programs that provide hands-on experiences that develop trade skills for high paying jobs and long-term career development. 

Some students will prepare for ongoing trade-school experiences and have a clear vision and purpose for attending and completing such programs. Again, internships will give them the hands-on experiences to perfect their skill and advance them to higher levels of pay before leaving our care.

Other students will likely select the college path and will be supported by ongoing college preparation and advanced coursework that allows them to complete many courses before they leave our care.  The academy will continuously pursue grants and funding sources to support a college fund for our students.  The academy will also help the student apply for grants and scholarships through traditional sources. Should the student remain at a nearby college campus, they will continue to have access to many of the same support systems offered previously (see Transitional Supports). 

Emancipations services will also include years of extensive training in the following areas: 

Effective Communication

Relationship Development

Conflict Management

Employment and Personnel Practices, Responsibilities, & Expectations

Money & Time Management

Home/Family Planning and Parenting Skills


TRANSITIONAL SUPPORTS

Gradual release is key to a successful transition into adulthood. As with most eighteen year olds; they are anxious and excited to be independent.  However, developmental experts agree the egocentric behaviors that lead to risky behaviors during adolescent remain after eighteen years of age.  As a result, we are committed to guiding our students with transitional housing and opportunities that allow them to experience adult life with limited freedoms balanced with supervision that keeps them moving towards successful complete independence within two years.  

Each will increasingly accept full financial responsibility towards their own development and enhance their identity as a successful independent adult.  Upon full release, our measurement of success will be demonstrated by their ability to be resourceful, problem-solve effectively, and flourish even after experiencing failure. Our commitment to each child is life-long, and we hope they will return “home” to share holidays, their joys, experiences and challenges, and give back as proud alumni and life-long family members.