CDHS Improves Educational Outcomes for Foster Youth

Hide Featured Image

DENVER (May 9, 2024) — In Colorado, only one in four students who experience foster care during high school graduate with their class. In response, Jefferson County Public Schools and Jefferson County Human Services created the Fostering Opportunities program. Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) and its Office of Children, Youth & Families (OCYF), the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab, and the Community First Foundation supported the implementation through an innovative form of social financing called Pay for Success. CDHS began overseeing the scaling of the program into new school districts in 2023.

The program provides advocacy, mentorship, social-emotional and academic support to middle and high school students who have experienced foster care. It emphasizes building up collaboration and communication between school districts and county human service agencies to better support the educational needs of youth in out-of-home care both during their case and after case closure.

"Young people are not just the future; they are the architects of a brighter tomorrow. It's imperative that we equip them with the tools to break free from negative educational trends and chart their own paths to success," emphasized Mollie Bradlee, interim director for the Office of Children, Youth and Families. "Fostering Opportunities' commitment to dismantling obstacles to education helps ensure that every young person has an opportunity to be successful, and to unlock new opportunities as they transition to adulthood.”

Fostering Opportunities is currently the only approach in the U.S. proven to improve educational outcomes for middle school and high school students in foster care. The Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab recently released the final report after a three-year randomized controlled trial in Jefferson County Public Schools. The initial evaluation findings highlight some great successes of the intervention, including:

  • Students participating in the program passed academic courses at a higher rate within two years of having access to the program.
  • Participants showed statistically significant gains in student attendance rates.
  • The evaluation shows a statistically significant decrease in the number of student suspensions within one year of having access to the program.

Two years after entering the program, 41.86% of students who had access to Fostering Opportunities were on track to graduate, while 32% of students in the control group were on track to graduate. The Colorado Lab will continue to support ongoing evaluation of the program in the expansion sites in order to better understand the intervention’s impact on graduation achievement.

Program Coordinator, Jordan Witt-Araya with Denver Public Schools noted, “We can now engage [youth in foster care] and support them both academically and non-academically, including college visits, sports programs, driving lessons, music lessons and other enrichment opportunities. I believe that some of these activities will help inspire our students to continue in their passions, instill confidence, and create opportunities for a different future than what has been documented statistically.”

Given the success of the pilot program, Colorado’s Foster Care Success Act (House Bill 22-1374) provided about $1.1 million in Fiscal Year 2023-24 to support school districts and human services agencies interested in implementing this intervention. At the start of the 2023-2024 school year, two additional school districts, Denver Public Schools and Brighton 27J Schools, began implementation of their own Fostering Opportunities programs. Over 200 students received services from Fostering Opportunities during the 2023-24 school year. Twenty-six student participants will be graduating with their high school diplomas in the Spring of 2024.

Fostering Opportunities was Colorado’s first-ever state funded Pay for Success project. This approach to public funding relied on philanthropic dollars to test promising interventions, ensuring that taxpayer dollars were directed to proven practices. Colorado’s Foster Care Success Act (HB22-1374) provided the resources needed to sustain this program.

As the 2024-2025 school year begins, the Colorado Lab will oversee a fidelity monitoring evaluation, highlighting adherence to the model across all expanded school district programs. CDHS continues to oversee funding and provide implementation support with the hope that continued expansion may occur in the future.

Media contact:
Julie Popp
OCYF Communications Manager