20% of Philly Students Involved in Welfare, Juvenile Justice Systems

This week, the results of a report compiled by PolicyLab (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia), the Philadelphia School District, and the Department of Human Services (DHS), were released, showing that 1 in 5 students in Philadelphia high school classrooms has been involved with child welfare or juvenile justice services.

This number is disheartening for a city that is struggling to provide its children with the most basic of services. Kristen A. Graham, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer adds that involvement with the DHS and the juvenile justice system is a precursor to special education program requirements and repeating grades. Not only that, but these students also tend to make lower scores on state tests and are chronically absent.

Add to that the fact that these students are concentrated in city schools that are large, comprehensive, and struggling.

The report carries "pretty big implications," said Lori Shorr, the city's chief education officer. "A public school system is only as good as the outcomes it achieves for its most vulnerable students."

Citywide, 17% of children have had involvement with these systems. Once in high school, the number rises to 20%. One-half of the district high schools have more than 100 students who interact with DHS. David Rubin, pediatrician and co-director of PolicyLab, explains.

"In a very challenging financial environment, it helps us understand what these teachers face every day," Rubin said Tuesday at a news conference at district headquarters.

Philadelphia's city schools often cannot afford school counselors, nurses, psychologists, or social workers. Many in the childhood education and support arenas hope that this report will engender actions to correct this situation.

The Department of Human Services has already placed social workers in some schools and is hoping to add 27 more. The agency has had to cover programs that have previously been under the jurisdiction of the district, such as a truancy program that had been run by school employees, but had to be discarded because of teacher layoffs.

Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr. says that funding will be requested from both city and state resources. He added that the study put district budgetary needs in perspective.

Roberta Trombetta, acting chief executive officer at Arise Academy Charter High School, thinks the study spotlights the efforts being made at her school.

"This supports the work we are doing," Trombetta said. "Kids in care need social, emotional, and behavioral supports to move on, and they need all the systems to come together." She said the students who come to Arise for ninth grade are far behind and struggling and need extra help that her small, specialized school provides.

The School Reform Commission collected the data for the study. It also has fought to close Ms. Trombetta's school on academic and financial grounds.

Jessica McDonald, writing for Newsworks, reports that DHS Commissioner, Anne Marie Ambrose wants to help.

"We all know it's no secret that the district really doesn't have the finances necessary to solve some of these problems on their own," she said. "So DHS is going to use this report and use the data to guide strategic investments that we need to continue to make in the district. It really shines a light on the particular needs of our comprehensive schools, at a time, frankly, when those resources are being diminished because of the funding crisis. It's even more of a startling and exasperating finding for that reason."

A broader study was done in 2006 with the purpose of helping school dropouts. This is when the correlation between students who were affiliated with DHS and the juvenile justice system was discovered.

This new study, however, focused on finding these children and determining their needs in order to improve their academic achievement, reports Cindy Stansbury for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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