- Amy Rubinson, Chief Program Officer & Care Coordination Manager, Educate Tomorrow
- Andrea Arrechea, Care Coordinator, Educate Tomorrow
FCAN host: Kathy McDonald, Assistant Director for Network Partnerships
Nearly 96,000 Florida students are homeless, over 24,000 students are in foster care, and their priorities have shifted in the wake of COVID-19.
On June 23, FCAN’s Kathy McDonald welcomed Educate Tomorrow’s Dr. Amy Rubinson and Andrea Arrechea to discuss the work and evolution of Unite Miami, which supports youth in foster care or experiencing homelessness ages 5-23. They also shared results from a recent survey examining how COVID-19 has impacted youth in their program and how Unite Miami has adapted to meet their needs.
One of the adjustments includes shifting from in-person to virtual “Lunch and Learn” sessions with the students they serve.
“We’re seeing our college students, especially, are very open to this kind of programming,” Arrechea said. “It’s an opportunity for them to socialize in some shape or form.”
Florida Students in Foster Care or Experiencing Homelessness
According to the 2019 annual report by Florida’s Council on Homelessness, almost 96,000 Florida students are homeless. That figure translates to about 3.1% of the state’s student population.
There were also 24,404 Florida children in foster care as of August 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, AFCARS (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System).
Florida continues to make progress in the number of former foster youth entering college and 4-year universities thanks to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) tuition waiver. According to a Helios Education Foundation report, there were 3,871 students who used DCF tuition fee and exemptions at Florida College System institutions during 2016-17, which is up by 334 students from the previous academic year. The same report also revealed that 901 students used DCF tuition and fees exemptions in 2017, a significant gain from 2011 when only 388 students used DCF exemptions.
Get to Know: Unite Miami
Funded by The Children’s Trust, Unite Miami is a collaborative partnership among six community-based organizations and a research university that created a continuum of care for youth in foster care or experiencing homelessness. The group considers the whole child and his/her surroundings in working with the students they serve. That includes working directly with students to assess their needs and goals, given that they are the most knowledgeable experts of their life.
Key to their success is developing youth as their own advocates in navigating their world, and building on where the student has made progress rather than focusing on deficits.
“The student is truly at the center of our process,” Rubinson said. “We make an intentional effort to include our students and alumni in all our work and any kind of leadership decisions.”
“We are strength-based and want to make sure students know and realize they have the capability to accomplish amazing things,” Arrechea added.
Arrechea also shared the areas where Unite Miami’s multi-agency approach could result in successful collaboration – coordinating care for academics, legal needs, housing, emergency funding and special needs.
Shifting Priorities During COVID-19
Unite Miami recently conducted a survey to help gauge the impact of the current pandemic on its students.
Of the 180 student respondents, 55% had their wages temporarily or permanently reduced or cut off. About 67% of survey respondents were college and university students, and 6% of those students were also parents.
While these students’ needs remain the same, their priorities have shifted from before the pandemic to the present day.
So while schooling was still the top priority (89%) for respondents, staying healthy grew in importance by 15 percentage points (81%), followed by working or finding a job (78%). The need to support a family member more than doubled, from 26% before the pandemic to 55% now.
Food and household expenditures were areas where students needed the greatest additional support since COVID-19 closed campuses, more than tripling from the month of February to the month covering mid-March to mid-April.
“It’s important to remember that we need to be gentle with each other and with ourselves,” Rubinson said. “We also have to be healthy in both mind and body.”
To learn more about supporting students in foster care or experiencing homelessness — or to view the webinar and download the presentation — take advantage of these resources:
2019 Annual Report (Florida’s Council on Homelessness)
Trends in Foster Care and Adoption (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, AFCARS)
Report — “Promoting Degree Attainment Among Former Foster Youth” (Helios Education Foundation)
Be sure to visit our Past Webinars page for access to recordings and downloadable material from FCAN’s previous presentations.