Good afternoon, Chairperson Nadeau and members of the Council. My name is Shannon Hodge and I am the Founding Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that all students in the District receive the great public education they deserve. I am here to testify about the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA).
Before I joined the DC Charter School Alliance, I was the executive director of Kingsman Academy Public Charter School, which I co-founded in 2015 to provide a safe, nurturing, therapeutic learning environment for students most in need of support from the city. From my experiences at Kingsman, I understand firsthand the complex needs and challenges facing students involved in the child welfare system and how we as a city need to work together on their behalf. When we don’t, the outcomes are tragic. I’ve almost lost count of the number of my former Kingsman students who have died in the last year as a result of violence. All of them at one time or another were involved with CFSA.
I know from my previous work at Kingsman and from my current work at the DC Charter School Alliance how much schools rely on CFSA to catch the students whose primary needs are beyond the reach of schools. School leaders can easily identify the students who are struggling the most and who most need government support and interventions for their nonacademic needs. The District needs a strong, effective, accountable CFSA to keep children safe and to give them a chance to experience improved educational and life outcomes.
What would a strong, effective, accountable CFSA look like?
- It would always provide schools with timely notification of changes in children’s caregivers or placements.
- It would always notify schools when children in CFSA care are missing.
- It would facilitate creation of effective, comprehensive support plans by partnering schools with birth parents, foster parents, and case workers.
- It would always inform schools of the holder of educational decision making rights for children in out-of-home placements, recognizing that the lack of clarity with regards
- to these rights is especially problematic for students with disabilities.
- It would include a feedback loop on truancy referrals so that the agency and schools can collaborate to get students back in school.
- It would ensure that CFSA personnel interacting with schools follow the agency’s written guidance, policies, and information provided to schools.
- It would protect the identity of school personnel acting as mandated reporters.
- It would communicate clearly and regularly with schools about resources and prevention programs designed to support struggling families, such as the recently created Family Success Centers.
Charter schools are ready, willing, and able to collaborate with CFSA to help the city implement existing recommendations and create long-term solutions. For example, our members participated in the Students in the Care of the District of Columbia Working Group to make recommendations for improved supports for students involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. But they are frustrated with the slow pace of progress on the workgroup’s recommendations. Similarly, our members are looking for the recently created Office of Students in the Care of DC to make substantive improvements in the coordination of services or solutions to information sharing challenges between schools and CFSA and other child serving agencies. And we appreciate the leadership of the Council in its recent passage of legislation to create an Office of the Ombudsperson for Children to aid in resolving constituent complaints and recommending policy solutions.
We know how much is needed to support the District’s most vulnerable children, and we are here to support those efforts. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.