Fostering Opportunities Program Increases Graduation Rates for Foster Care Students in Colorado

Students in foster care face overwhelming odds when it comes to graduating from high school. Only one in four students who experienced foster care during high school will graduate with their class. Jeffco Public Schools in partnership with Jefferson County Human Services saw a need and developed The Fostering Opportunities program. This innovative program used social financing called Pay for Success to help more foster care students graduate high school on time. 

Since launching in 2021, the Fostering Opportunities program has already made a huge impact. Approximately 130 students in grades 6-12 have benefited from the program, which has shown a 26.47% increase in students on track to graduate high school who are living in out-of-home care. This increase far exceeded the expected Pay for Success goal of achieving a 10% improvement. 

The program’s success is credited to three core elements. First, youth-serving agencies coordinated their efforts, aligning and opening up communications between child welfare, education, and other youth-serving agencies. Second, systems tracked and supported students across placements and schools, actively identifying students eligible for the program. And third, education “Specialists” worked directly with students as dedicated mentors that provided academic and social-emotional support, advocated on their behalf, taught them how to advocate for themselves, and helped them to build a reliable network of support in the school environment and beyond. 

Fostering Opportunities is Colorado’s first-ever state-funded Pay for Success project, relying on philanthropic funding to test promising interventions, ensuring that taxpayer dollars are directed to proven practices. Colorado Gives Foundation (formerly Community First Foundation) invested $789,000 in the project, and once agreed-upon goals were met, the state of Colorado repaid the Foundation its initial investment plus $10,600 in interest. 

Now, thanks to the Colorado Foster Care Success Act (HB22-1374), the resources needed to sustain this program in Jeffco are provided in perpetuity. Additionally, the act makes it possible for additional school districts to adopt the Fostering Opportunities program in the 2023-2024 school year. State funding to support implementation and ongoing programming specific to Fostering Opportunities has been appropriated through HB22-1374 for program expansion. The Department is awarding up to $500,000 in state fiscal year (SFY) 2022-23 and around $1.1 million in FY 2023-24 to support human services agencies and school districts interested in implementing this intervention

Partners in the project include the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth and Families; Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab; Colorado Governor’s Office of State Budgeting and Planning; Colorado Gives Foundation; Jefferson County Connections (formerly Child Youth Leadership Commission); Jefferson County Human Services; and Jeffco Public Schools. Thanks to these amazing partnerships and this innovative program, more students in foster care are benefiting and succeeding in school, creating brighter futures for themselves and their communities.