By Andrew Campbell
This fall, the IndyBar Pro Bono Standing Committee will rejuvenate its School Education Advocacy Program through collaboration with FosterEd, a project of the National Center for Youth Law. For more than five years, IndyBar volunteers have helped students in Marion County address a variety of challenges in the education process, particularly issues surrounding proper implementation and execution of Individual Education Plans (IEPs). In September, FosterEd is launching FosterEd: Marion County, a new initiative aimed at improving the educational outcomes of the approximately 2,500 Marion County foster children. IndyBar is excited to partner volunteer advocates with this program to bolster the School Education Advocacy Program, and is eager to involve more IndyBar members, specifically law students and paralegals.
While most children have an educational support structure to serve their educational needs, the acute unmet need for assistance in meeting the educational challenges facing foster youth is striking. Recent studies show that approximately 75% of foster children are behind grade level, 67% will be suspended from school, and foster youth are twice as likely to drop out of school. These educational outcomes can have long-lasting societal impacts, as 22% of former foster youth experience homelessness and 17% receive some form of public assistance. More troubling, many former foster youth spend time incarcerated, and the unemployment rate for former foster youth tops 50%.
FosterEd: Marion County is a joint project of the Indiana Youth Institute (IYI), Marion County Department of Child Services, and Child Advocates aimed at combating these poor educational outcomes by ensuring that foster children have the resources, support, and opportunities they need for a healthy and productive future. The project is being launched in partnership with a broad array of local organizations, including the IndyBar, Indianapolis Public Schools, Marion County Juvenile Courts, About Special Kids, INSOURCE, Connected by 25’s Education Success Program!, Disability Legal Services of Indiana, and Youth Law T.E.A.M.
IndyBar volunteer advocates will contribute to the FosterEd initiative by supporting the educational success of children with special needs through lay advocacy intended to build the capacity of foster youth and their families. Volunteers will be paired with foster youth living in Marion County who have unmet special education needs and will work with the student, family, caregiver, and school system to secure appropriate educational opportunities. This advocacy may take many forms, but will center on ensuring proper implementation of IEPs and related special education issues. Because the advocacy almost always is not traditional “legal” assistance, it is specifically designed for all IndyBar members, including attorneys, law students, and paralegals.
Training for the IndyBar School Education Advocacy Program is being offered on Wednesday, September 14, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the IndyBar office, 135 North Pennsylvania Street, Ste 1500. This training will introduce the agencies, procedures, and processes a volunteer will encounter when advocating for a child with special educational needs. Education law and entitlement programs and rights will briefly be covered. For those who cannot attend this offering, DVD’s will be available for check-out through the IndyBar. Please register for the complimentary training at www.indybar.org. Program volunteers must be members of the Indianapolis Bar Association (membership applications are also available at www.indybar.org).•
Andrew Campbell is an associate with Baker & Daniels LLP and the chair of the Indianapolis Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono.