UCLA Explores Links Between Foster Care and Education

Novice Forum presented by the UCLA Pritzker Center and Center X offered guidance for teachers in supporting foster children and youth.

High school students from throughout Los Angeles flocked to the UCLA campus to hear former First Lady Michelle Obama speak to them on College Signing Day. Meanwhile a very different event, with equal significance on the impact of education for young people, took place less than ten miles away from Westwood.

The UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and UCLA’s Center X presented a Novice Forum on “Foster Care & Education” on May 1 at Mann UCLA Community School, with a host of experts from education, law, and social services sharing their expertise with teachers.

Emma Hipolito, director of the UCLA Teacher Education Program (TEP), underscored TEP’s mission of working in underserved Los Angeles communities and the urgent need of L.A.’s teachers to learn how to support the foster children and youth among their students.

Jill Rowland, Esq., education program director, Alliance for Children’s Rights, spoke to teachers on the many ways that they could make classrooms more inclusive for foster children and youth.

“It is a privilege to partner with the Pritzker Center on our Novice Forum…[which] presents an opportunity for all TEP students – those who are pre-service teachers and those who are completing their first year of teaching –  to expand their knowledge of the foster care system in order to consider the actions they can take in their classrooms to support foster youth,” Hipolito said. “Several of our partner schools have significant numbers of children who are involved in the child welfare system. This increased understanding will allow them to better serve as advocates for K-12 students in the foster care system in their classrooms.”

Elaine Bradshaw, Esq. and Lucia Murillo, Esq., attorney supervisors at the Children’s Law Center of California, shared their experiences from decades of representing children aged 0-21 in L.A. County’s child welfare system. They described the additional trauma that is often suffered by children and youth in foster care, beyond the domestic violence, substance abuse, or physical or sexual abuse that landed them in the system in the first place. They emphasized the need to avoid stigmatizing foster children and youth school through activities that presume family normalcy such as family trees and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day art projects. Bradshaw and Murillo also stated the school can serve as a stabilizing environment for foster children and youth.

Jill Rowland, Esq., education program director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, discussed the impact of trauma on learning and health outcomes for children in foster care.

Rowland stated that due to early trauma, children’s development, such as speech and language, is often compromised. She underscored that students who are in foster care are often criminalized for their behavior and coping. Rowland cautioned teachers to be aware of smells, words, and other seemingly innocuous conditions in a classroom that can be triggers for traumatized students, and that asking students about “what is happening,” as opposed to “what is wrong” with them, is a more humane and effective way to deal with challenging behavior.

Taylor Lytle, a poet with InsideOUT Writers, gave a spoken word performance on the subject of her life in foster care. Concluding the program was a panel discussion moderated by Professor Tyrone Howard, director of the Pritzker Center. Participants included Cathleen Fagundes, a TEP student and former foster youth who will graduate in June with her Master’s of Education degree; Deidre Skelton, a retired LAUSD pupil services and attendance counselor who became a caregiver to one of her students who was a teen mother in need of stability; Jessica Chandler, a social worker for the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services; Regina Brodell, a UCLA alumna (’18) who is now a project coordinator at UCLA Semel Institute; and Serena Skinner, a graduating senior at CSU Northridge, who is a former foster youth.

“The UCLA Pritzker Center was thrilled to partner with the UCLA Teacher Education Program to offer this first-of-its-kind training,” said Professor Howard. “As a whole, children in foster care have poor educational outcomes due to transitory placements, difficulty enrolling, and trauma.  We can change this by offering teachers training to address the unique needs of children in foster care. Our community partners, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, Children’s Law Center, Inside Out Writers and the Department of Children and Family Services represented a range of experts in the fields of foster care, advocacy and education, and we look forward to offering this training to more teachers, schools and districts in the future.”


Above: Winnie Wechsler of the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation (second from left), joined representatives of the UCLA Pritzker Center for the Strengthening of Children and Families for a Novice Forum to help L.A. teachers better serve the foster children and youth among their students.

L-R: Patricia Lester, MD, Leadership Team, Pritzker Center; Ms. Wechsler, Audra Langley, Ph.D., co-director, Pritzker Center; Farzana Saleem, Ph.D.; Professor Tyrone Howard, director of the Pritzker Center; and Taylor Dudley, JD, administrative director, Pritzker Center.