September 3, 2019

Public News Service
Suzanne Potter

Legal aid groups are searching for a special group of volunteers to advocate for foster kids within the school system.

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Legal aid groups are searching for a special group of volunteers to advocate for foster kids within the school system.

When Assembly Bill 156 was passed, it created a Nevada law that says foster children and homeless young people must have someone who can meet on their behalf with teachers and counselors, and sign off on the student's individual education plan.

Kelly Venci Gonzalez – team chief of the Education Advocacy Program for the Children's Attorneys Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada – says Clark County alone needs about 50 of these Volunteer Education Advocates, as soon as possible.

"Our Volunteer Education Advocate will attend meetings, will keep in touch with the school and just generally monitor the child's progress to make sure that they're getting everything they need to be successful in school," says Venci Gonzalez.

Across Nevada, there are about 4,200 foster kids – and when biological parents, relatives or foster parents can't or don't step up, the volunteer surrogates step in, handling paperwork and attending meetings about once a month.

To volunteer, you can contact the Children's Attorneys Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. Washoe Legal Services is working to put together a similar program in Northern Nevada.

According to Venci Gonzalez, some volunteers are retired teachers, some are college students; others are parents of kids with disabilities who want to help other children succeed.

"Only about 48% of kids in foster care graduate from high school, and the number is lower if they have a disability," says Venci Gonzalez. “So, we're really trying to draw attention, to make sure that someone is monitoring this child's education."

She says volunteers don't need legal or educational experience and receive all the training they'll need, free of charge. They do have to be over age 18, and cannot be an employee of a school district or the Department of Social Services.