In 2014, The Mayor’s Office of Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission, the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Philadelphia Youth Network, and PolicyLab at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia studied the academic outcomes of public school students who are involved with the child welfare or juvenile justice system. The study concluded that these students are an at-risk population, frequently impacted by trauma and experiencing poor academic outcomes. On average, these students are less likely to be promoted to the next grade on time, earn fewer credits during the year, are more likely to receive special education services, and are absent more days from school than their peers. According to the study, students with juvenile justice and out-of-home child welfare involvement had the lowest levels of achievement on Pennsylvania standardized tests. Even students who had less intense DHS involvement, such as substantiated reports of neglect or in-home protective services, had lower achievement rates than their peers.
Although these trends decrease when students have the opportunity to attend a high-performing school, students who are agency-involved have less access to selective admissions schools than the average student in Philadelphia. Students involved with DHS are concentrated in Comprehensive and Alternative Education Schools, which tend to be lower performing schools than Charter or Special Admission and Citywide Schools. In fact, 30% of students in Alternative Education and 23% of students in Comprehensive High Schools have a history of DHS involvement. These schools are generally under-resourced and struggle with individualized case management and to provide the interventions that agency-involved students require.
Why Focus on Girls?
There is a great need for an increased focus on girls of color and disparities in punishment and performance at school. A recent report released by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Women’s Law Center emphasizes this unmet need. As the study points out, stereotypes and bias contribute to more severe punishments and higher proportions of young women of color disengaging with school and identified for referral to the juvenile justice system. A study conducted by the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS) and the African American Policy Forum finds that on some measures there is a greater achievement gap and greater disparity in discipline between black girls and their white counterparts than black boys and their white counterparts. My Sister’s Keeper seeks to provide programming that will help to address a lack of services targeting at-risk girls of color.
Why Focus on Philadelphia?
A current budget crisis in Philadelphia has forced both the school system and individual schools to make difficult decisions. Resources to meet social and emotional needs have been cut from many schools. In particular, school counselors have been almost entirely eliminated. “Under-resourced” is no longer a term that distinguishes one set of schools from another; for the most part, the entire system lacks supports that are fundamental to providing holistic education.
Research + Resources:
©2014 The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC)
Ocen, Priscilla, Jyoti Nanda, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected, 2015. Internet resource.
Project U-Turn, May 2015
GENDER INJUSTICE: SYSTEM-LEVEL JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORMS FOR GIRLS
The National Crittendon Foundation. Advocacy , Juvenile Justice , National , National Girls Initiative
Policy Lab: Center to Bridge Reserch, Practice and Policy
Human Rights Project for Girls, Georgetown Law Center for Poverty and Inequality, Ms Foundation for Women
Malika Saada Saar, Human Rights Project for Girls
Rebecca Epstein, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality
Lindsay Rosenthal, Ms. Foundation for Women
Yasmin Vafa, Human Rights Project for Girls
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, November 13, 2015