Press Release

State of Florida
Department of Children and Families
Charlie Crist

George H. Sheldon

December 1, 2010
MEDIA CONTACT: DCF Communications
(850) 488-4855

Community Meets to Address Ways to Help Children and Youth
In State Care Succeed in School

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Department of Children and Families today kicked off the first of several community meetings that will be held across the state to address obstacles to the educational success of children and youth in foster care and find ways to ensure that they receive a high-quality education.

Today’s meeting at the Big Bend Community Based Care facility in Tallahassee launches the statewide “Everybody’s a Teacher” initiative, with more than 100 members of the community working on educational issues affecting children in state care. Education professionals, foster parents and individuals representing the courts, Guardian ad Litem, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Workforce Plus and Big Bend Community Based Care were among the participants.

Statewide, children and youth in foster care often are less successful than other children. For example, according to DCF fewer of them received a standard high school diploma in 2007 compared all youth. In that same year, a DCF survey showed that 55 percent of 17-year-olds in care were below grade level and 58 percent failed the FCAT. A representative of the Leon County School Board provided Leon County statistics at the meeting.

Everybody’s a Teacher is designed to encourage individuals and communities to become involved in the education of children and youth in foster care and address issues that often stand in the way of their doing well in school. The message DCF and others hope to convey: Everybody is a teacher.

"Every time a child is moved from a family or foster care home, their lives are disrupted, their relationships are interrupted, and they fall behind in school," said Mary Cagle, director of DCF’s Children’s Legal Services. DCF Secretary George Sheldon charged Cagle with taking the lead on the Everybody’s a Teacher initiative.

"There are so many caring professionals in our local communities who understand these issues, and we hope to use this initiative to bring judges, guardians, care managers, advocates, teachers and school administrators, and others together to develop an action plan that will raise the educational outcomes for our children," Cagle said.

Tool kits or "Backpacks," assembled by DCF, will provide data and guidelines for other groups in the state who want to join the effort.

"Education is vital to the success of all youth in our community,” said Mike Watkins, CEO of Big Bend Community Based Care. “We are here today to affirm the community's support of children in foster care and to collaborate with local schools to ensure they receive the same opportunities."

Danielle Johnson-Small, a former foster child now employed by DCF, spoke at the meeting.

A lot of children in foster care become lost in the system, unless they have someone to advocate for them, to make sure they have the proper tools to succeed in school, that they don’t miss important deadlines – or to make sure they participate in extracurricular activities that round out their education,” she said “Having someone who really cares and pays attention to each child’s needs will make a world of difference in their lives.”