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Educational support program helps foster kids in Macon County navigate remote learning

CASA education program

Macon County Court-Appointed Special Advocates volunteer and educational program manager Ivy Handley works with a student. The local agency is the recipient of grant funds that will help pay for advocates and tutors to assist their clients deal with the challenges of remote learning.


DECATUR — As tough as being a foster kid is, learning by remote and worries about a virus you might or might not understand makes it harder.

Macon County Court-Appointed Special Advocates has found a way to make it a little easier. Illinois CASA received grant money from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority to pay for advocates and tutors.

“We support and advocate for children who are in the foster care system and the kids are spread out in all the different school districts in Macon County and beyond,” said CASA Executive Director Julia Livingston. “All kids are adapting to new learning situations and our CASA kids are just the same, except that they have some additional barriers that pose problems for educational success: moving from foster home to foster home, and sometimes district to district, along with the trauma they've had from abuse and neglect. Educational advocacy is one of our four main advocacies, and we felt that needed to be enhanced to ensure our children are having academic success.”

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The grant is enough to pay for an educational manager and two tutors, who visit the children in their foster homes or by video conference. Sometimes all the child needs is someone to boost their confidence or help them figure out the technology needed to submit homework and get assignments. Sometimes they need tutoring in a specific subject.

“They meet virtually and sometimes they have porch visits to resolve some of the learning troubles the kids are having,” Livingston said. “Our kids are already assigned to CASA volunteers, and one thing we're good at is creating relationships. The kids and parents have already expressed that they're having struggles, so it's easy to identify who needed the help. The volunteers check in with teachers and schools, so they know what's going on educationally with the kids.”

Some of the volunteers already get bi-weekly reports on grades and behaviors, she said, and once they had the tutors in place, they knew where the children had problems.

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CASA kids are in the program through age 21, so some of the students are in college. More than 50 students are in the tutoring program, Livingston said. CASA serves 300 students in all.

The program has been underway about a month, said Ivy Handley, the educational manager, and she's pleased with how it's going so far.

“We really just try to be there to support them any way we can, if it's just building confidence or making a connection with the teacher or working through problem-solving and just being that encouraging person that kind of guides them through that difficult time,” she said. “We have a couple of teenagers right now, and we've made a connection and they really look forward to getting help, somebody that shows up for them and them only for an hour or two every week. That goes a long ways with any kiddo, getting attention and getting help and knowing they're important and can do well.”

Sometimes, she added, it's just a matter of letting the child know that the adults in their lives want them to succeed.

“Part of it is just checking on the kid to make sure they're doing all right,” Handley said. “Some of these kiddos have gone through quite a lot.”

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Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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