New Crown wards protocol officially launched
RYAN PAULSEN / DAILY OBSERVER Local stakeholders from school boards and Family and Children's Services gathered on Wednesday, Feb 19 to discuss and celebrate the new protocol agreement that launched the Crown Ward Education Championship Team in Renfrew County. The group hopes to increase communication and accessibility for crown wards to educational success at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Back row, from left: Angela McGregor-Stewart (Renfrew County District School Board special ed. consultant), Heather Hickson (Renfrew County Catholic District School Board CWECT rep), Murray Kyte (Algonquin College CWECT retp), Mike O'Brien (Renfrew County Family and Children's Services director of research and quality assurance) and Ted White (CWECT program manager). Front row, from left: Peter Adam (RCCDSB superintendent of education), Arijana Tomicic (Renfrew County FCS executive director) and Gayle Bishop (RCCDSB superintendent of education).
When a child has been under the care of Family and Children's Services for a particular length of time (12 months for those younger than six, 24 for those older) the child welfare agency itself becomes their legal guardian and they become known as Crown wards.
As you might imagine, while individual parents attending teacher conferences and getting updates on their kids' performance and behaviour in school is fairly straightforward, communication between the education and child welfare systems is significantly more complicated, and often has resulted in information gaps and missed opportunities for the students.
In fact, a 2010 report showed that only 42 per cent of former crown wards aged 19 or 20 had graduated high school compared to the general provincial graduation rate of 75 per cent. In that same year, the Ministry of Colleges, Trades and Universities estimated that by 2020, nearly three-quarters of all new jobs would require some post-secondary education.
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, the public and Catholic school boards in the counties of Renfrew, Lanark, Leeds and Grenville joined forces with their local Family and Children's Services to form the province's 21st Crown Ward Education Championship Team (CWECT) to try and address those communication gaps and increase the chances for this vulnerable population to have success in, and beyond, high school.
"Because these young people have had some challenges," explains CWECT program manager Ted Whiteland, "it's only fair that we do the best we can to develop these partnerships so in fact we recognize a) who they are, b) what they need, and c) help them go down that path to success."
Renfrew County Family and Children's Services executive director Arijana Tomicic feels that the partnership between the school boards and her agency will be a fruitful one.
"This is hopefully a step forward to seeing that 42 per cent get a bit closer to the average," she says. "I think the greatest benefit is the outcome to the children in care and their success rate in the future and their ability to finish high school, to go to post-secondary [schools], to get jobs and then to be self-sufficient."
Tomicic says that the days when FCS's only responsibility was to remove children from unsafe situations is gone, and CWECT represents a renewed effort to protect the children in FCS custody, and to take active measures to ensure their success.
While Whiteland and Tomicic both point out that school boards and FCS have had the basic support elements in place to help students in academic need, the stronger focus is what makes CWECT such an exciting venture.
"There are a lot of things that we're already doing with the educational system to help the crown wards," Tomicic explains, "but I think this is the first time that it's actually a document on paper, focused and intentional on raising that success rate."
"Guidance counsellors, department heads and schools have always had the responsibility of making sure that students were looked after," says Whiteland, "particularly as they travel down the post-secondary route. That's no different. What is different here is that we're really focusing tightly in terms of the crown wards, because that's a population that we know from the data often times do not go on to post-secondary education. So really, it's [taking] existing services, but applying them to crown wards in particular."
Ryan Paulsen is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist