Five years ago, Treehouse, then a small nonprofit in Seattle, saw youth in foster care graduating at less than half the rate of other students and decided to claim responsibility and do something about it. We set a goal few thought we would achieve: “By 2017, foster youth in King County will graduate from high school at the same rate as their peers with a plan for the future.”
Today, the extended graduation rate for youth in our program, Graduation Success, is 89 percent — about 7 percent higher than the general population. The rate includes on-time and fifth-year graduates throughout King County, and a growing number of school districts in Pierce and Spokane counties. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the bad news is that statewide the overall fifth-year graduation rate for youth in foster care remains unacceptable at 49 percent. It’s time for a new goal — a statewide goal. Just like then, today we’re embarking on another audacious goal. Once again, the data is ugly and daunting. Once again, we want more information than is available to us and to know exactly what parts are directly Treehouse’s work to do and what belongs to others. Once again, the fundraising goals are exceptionally large. The statewide scope is complex. And yet, I feel calm because we have gone through this before.
So here it is, Treehouse’s new statewide graduation goal for youth in foster care: “By 2022, youth in foster care across Washington state will graduate from high school at the same rate as their peers, with support and a plan to launch successfully into adulthood.” Our track record says we can do this. Our challenges have remained fairly consistent: student mobility, inadequate mental-health services for youth, and inadequate school resources for youth who are behind their peer group.Collectively we share the responsibility of making sure youth in foster care have the support they need to launch successfully into adulthood.
Today, we are surrounded by youth voices saying: “We need you, please work with us.” We know this commitment and action are essential because a third of youth who are homeless today were previously in foster care. We believe that a commitment to youth and helping them achieve their goals will pay off in student persistence and success.
(Excerpt from Special to The Times by Janis Avery, CEO of Treehouse.)