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Juvenile Rights Project, Inc. (JRP), located in Portland, OR, represents over 2,000 children, youth and parents each year in the Multnomah County Juvenile Court through a contract with the Oregon Public Defense Services Commission.  The vast majority of children we represent have experienced abuse and neglect and other trauma.  About 80% of our clients are children in foster care.  In addition, we represent youth charged with delinquent offenses, including violations, misdemeanors and felonies.  While the state contracts with JRP to represent our clients in court, the representation we provide extends far beyond the courthouse walls.
Recognizing the poor educational experiences of court-involved children and youth, JRP began in 1997 to study the educational needs of youth on probation, provide training to juvenile probation officers and represent youth who were excluded from school or facing exclusion.
JRP established the SchoolWorks program with the award of a four-year, $800,000 federal Byrne grant in 2002 to address the appalling educational outcomes many of our clients experience. This grant allowed JRP to increase the number of individual children receiving educational advocacy services nearly tenfold.
SchoolWorks has assisted over 1,100 children and youth in the last five years to stay in school and stay out of trouble.  SchoolWorks consists of attorneys, social workers and legal assistants who help to ensure that juvenile court-involved children are enrolled in school, stay in school, and receive academic, emotional, behavioral and other supports appropriate to their needs.  In short, SchoolWorks strives to ensure that each vulnerable child served has access to a “free and appropriate public education.”
Children who are abused and neglected--many of whom also come from impoverished environments and suffer disproportionately from physical, emotional, developmental and cognitive disabilities--too often fail to succeed in and complete school.  Due to high mobility, emotional and physical trauma and other factors, many of our clients face tremendous barriers to receiving and successfully completing their public educations.
In 2005, the Casey Family Foundation published findings from an ambitious study of young adults who had grown up in foster care in Washington and Oregon.  The findings were disturbing, but not surprising to us.  The average time in foster care of the study participants was 6.1 years, and the former foster youth had lived in an average of 1.4 foster homes per year.  The impact on their education was that 65% had attended at least seven schools and 30% had attended 10 or more schools.  Of those who completed high school, 28.5% did so with a GED credential.  By the age of 25, only 1.8% of the foster care alumni had earned a bachelor’s degree.  In April, Portland’s Connected by 25 (Cx25) released data that highlighted the importance of academic success in eighth and ninth grades on graduation rates from Portland Public Schools.
SchoolWorks serves children in foster care as well as youth in the juvenile justice system who are not in school at all, are academically behind or have behavior problems.  Over 40% of children referred have two or three of these risk factors.  Recent data (2006) from the Multnomah County Juvenile Justice Division showed that 31% of youth on probation were not enrolled in school, and over 50% of youth on probation who were receiving services for mental health or substance abuse disorders had been out of school one month or longer at the time of the survey.
SchoolWorks addresses the disparity between standard educational services and the special needs of children in the foster care and delinquency systems.  Some of the specific tasks and strategies SchoolWorks employs include: enrolling students in school and helping children stay in the same school even when they change foster homes; ensuring that students are appropriately assessed for special education and other supports and receive services that are individualized for their needs; and keeping children who have behavioral difficulties in school by working with districts to implement positive behavior supports and coordinating with other systems, such as mental health and child welfare, to ensure that students’ health, mental health and other needs are met.