Improving Education Outcomes for System-Involved Youth

Stoneleigh Fellow: Liza Rodriguez, 2009-2010


Philadelphia's dropout problem is a widespread epidemic.  Students from all backgrounds, family structures and neighborhoods throughout the city drop out of high school-approximately 8,000 per year.

Yet in light of this large-scale problem, particular sub-populations of young people are more likely to dropout.  These young people are more likely to be involved in one or more of Philadelphia's social service systems.  Among those at greatest risk are:

  • young people with a substantiated case of abuse or neglect;
  • young people in foster placement;
  • students in juvenile justice placements; and
  • young women who give birth within 4 years of starting high school.

In 2008, newly elected Mayor Michael Nutter and new School District of Philadelphia (SDP)  superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman made a commitment to reduce Philadelphia's high dropout rate by up to 50% in seven years.  Among several strategies identified for achieving this goal, including enhanced truancy prevention strategies, is strengthening the cross-systems partnerships between city government, the human services community, and the school district to improve educational outcomes for these system-involved youth.

Project Goals 

In order to increase the city's capacity to support these struggling young people, Liza M. Rodriguez will work to identify and implement changes that will:

  • Allow service providers to access timely information and resources to better serve this population;
  • Prevent enrollment delays for system-involved youth that are due to school records and other paperwork requirements;
  • Ensure sufficient and appropriate assessment of children's educational needs; and
  • Improve young people's access to special education services.

Project Method

To achieve these goals, Liza is working across these systems to establish an Education Support Center in the city's Department of Human Services (DHS).  The goals of the project, currently in its planning phase, are to:

  • Establish a formal cross-system partnership with the School District of Philadelphia for the purpose of improving the quality of educational support services offered to children in out of home placement;
  • Assess how DHS is currently utilizing its school-based resources in order to better align these services to support the educational engagement and performance of children in care; and
  • Identify the multiple leverage points in the DHS continuum of services and care (from first safety or in-home assessment to case closings or permanent placements) where educational assessments, linkages, and supports can be integrated into the day-to-day practice of DHS workers.

The DHS Education Support Center (ESC) will serve as a resource and practice bridge between DHS and the School District of Philadelphia. Its staff will provide training and technical assistance to DHS and school district staff and private providers. ESC staff will also serve as "coaches" - guiding DHS and SDP staff through the educational planning, problem-solving, and service linkage/engagement processes of specific children.  

In the early implementation stages of the ESC, DHS and SDP may initially identify and serve a discreet target population. There are approximately 2800 dependent youth between the ages of 6-19 currently enrolled in the School District of Philadelphia (and an additional 1524 dependent youth of the same age range enrolled in school systems throughout Pennsylvania.)

The functions of the ESC are to:

  • Develop cross-systems protocols to establish a framework for collaboration at the multiple staffing levels of both systems;
  • Create pathways to share the most up-to-date data in a timely manner to ensure school stability for children when it is in their best interest and prevent enrollment delays when a child has to change schools;
  • Improve access to special education services;
  • Promote the best use of school district resources to support the school stability, engagement, and performance of children in out of home placement; and
  • Identify resources for private providers to strengthen academic support and enrichment programs for children in DHS care