An inside look at foster care transportation

foster care transportationBefore coming to work as the Director of Regulatory Compliance at HopSkipDrive, Maggie Greene spent years working with youth and adults with disabilities, as well as with juveniles experiencing abuse and neglect. While working as a guardian ad litem (GAL) in Colorado for five and half years, she advocated for many kids who had been placed in foster care to help ensure they gained access to the services they needed.

Below, she shares stories that provide valuable insight into the importance of reliable, positive relationships and routines for children who are in foster care — and the vital role transportation plays in their lives.

Can you tell us about situations you’ve seen where reliable foster care transportation was (or could have been) pivotal?

I’m happy to share a few examples that are pretty applicable. The first situation is one where HopSkipDrive was not being utilized, but if it had, I think it could have made a really big difference for these kids. 

I was appointed for four children in what was, unfortunately, the family’s fourth dependency and neglect (court involved) case. There were four kids: a baby, and a six, seven, and ten year old. Because the older three kids were in the system so frequently, the school had become their safe place and one (if not the only) reliable and consistent thing in their lives. The teachers and the administration and everybody at the school really wrapped their arms around the kids. The teachers and staff were invested in the kids' success and became advocates for them, especially around helping them get to school, which wasn’t happening despite a great deal of effort from social service professionals. The kids trusted the teachers and staff, and wanted to stay at their school. 

When this fourth case opened, the three older kids were placed with a relative who lived about 45 minutes away from the school they attended. Because of the federal legislation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the school was required to provide transportation for the children from where they were living to their “school of origin.”  Staying in their home school was deemed to be in the children’s best interest, so legally the school district had to facilitate transportation for the children from their out-of-home placement. 

What that involved in reality, however, was extremely long bus rides for the children. All three would literally get on the bus at 6:30 in the morning and they would be on the bus for close to two hours before getting to school. Same thing on the way home. That’s a really long time — especially for kids that young — to sit on the bus. They would get home close to 5:30, 6:00 at night, when it was already dark or close to it. There was no down time before dinner and bedtime. Homework was really hard to fit in, not to mention visits with parents and any other activity they may have wanted to participate in. They didn’t like the long rides and the early mornings but it was really important to maintain the consistency and stability of the same school, and the kids asked to continue at the school despite the downfalls. 

Had the Department of Human Services (DHS) or the school district been able to utilize HopSkipDrive to get the kids to and from school, it would have not only mitigated the lengthy time on the bus but it also would have opened up time for other important things for the children. These kids were already going through so much, and they were coping with a great deal of trauma. Any way we can reduce barriers or help kids feel more “normal” in these situations goes a really long way. 

Unfortunately, this kind of situation is not unique. I could go on and on about the need and the different situations where I think HopSkipDrive could make a big difference in the lives of kids who are removed from their parents and placed in the foster care system. 

Can you talk about a situation you’ve seen where HopSkipDrive was involved?

Yes! I had a case where the foster parents and the biological mom were really trying to work together. We were working towards reunification of the family, and we were attempting to integrate mom into the daily care of the children by having her play a regular role in helping to get them to and from school and various services. All of the children (there were four) involved in this case had different learning or developmental disabilities. They had experienced a great deal of trauma, including exposure to domestic violence, methamphetamines, homelessness, and physical and psychological abuse. Accordingly, all four children were in need of a lot of different types of therapies and services such as occupational therapy, animal-assisted therapy, additional school tutoring, etc.

The biological family was struggling financially, and the biological mom did not have transportation or access to a vehicle to transport the children. To complicate matters, the foster parents both worked and were not able to take time off on a daily basis to get the kids to all the various services they needed and to parental visits. Further, the foster placement was in a different school district than the kids’ “home school.” We were trying to minimize disruption and transition for the kids as much as we could so the children stayed at their home school, which required lengthy bus rides and a lot of coordination (and confusion) between the school district and DHS.  

In this instance, HopSkipDrive was utilized and was able to help with these issues, which were affecting the kids, the biological family and the foster placement. HopSkipDrive coordinated transportation for parent visits, and was also able to help the kids get to their services. Alleviating the burden of transportation helped to ease some of the ongoing tension between the biological mom and the foster parents, facilitating a better relationship between everyone who was involved in caring for the kids. This was, in turn, great for the kids because they were picking up on the tension and feeling uncomfortable about the fact that getting them places was causing problems. 

Ultimately, access to reliable transportation allowed reunification to happen in a more stable manner. A better relationship between the foster parents and the mom enabled the foster parents to continue to be involved in these kids’ lives. It also allowed for the biological mom to be more involved in the services for the children, as she was not stressed about securing transportation. 

I think it’s also important to note that if not for HopSkipDrive, these children simply would not have been able to get the needed therapies. We would’ve been forced to just say, “Well, we can’t do this service because scheduling just doesn’t work,” which unfortunately is not unusual. 

And HopSkipDrive was used to get them back and forth to school, too?

Yes. The school district worked to get them transportation to their home school; however, that required them getting dropped off last, picked up first — it was just this whole debacle with the scheduling, because there different services happening on different days, and sometimes the school bus was not able to accommodate them. There were one or two times where the bus driver just didn’t come to get them, and that left the foster parents scrambling. 

Things like that put stress on the placement. . . they endanger it. You want continuity and stability for the kids wherever you can get it, so having dependable transportation to school with HopSkipDrive was very helpful in maintaining the placement and not creating more disruption and transition for the kids. 

Can you talk a bit more about the importance of reliable foster care transportation as it relates to parental visitation?

Transportation is a frequent challenge when it comes to parental visitation. There are visitation supervisors who can bring the kids to wherever the visit with the parent is, but that eats into the visitation time. Let’s say the parent is 30 minutes away and there is an hour and a half visit scheduled. Well, if it’s 30 minutes each way, now you’re having a 30-minute visit. It’s often funded by Medicaid or it’s department funding and you can’t go over the scheduled time, so the transport time has to be included. And the visitation supervisors are very limited on time and scheduling. Biological parents are often not able to transport because in many cases there are protection orders, and transportation is a challenge. Foster parents also frequently have trouble providing transportation for visitations due to scheduling conflicts and general availability. 

When using HopSkipDrive, the supervisor has more time to supervise the visit, coach the parents and actually have the children interact with the parents. I’ve personally seen multiple cases where it took forever to get visitation going because logistically, we couldn’t figure out how to get the kids there.

Are there any other use cases you’ve seen where consistent foster care transportation made a real difference?

There is one other example — one that will become more of an issue in 2023, at least in Colorado, as representation shifts from the “best interest of the child” to client-driven representation for kids 12 years and older. The Colorado state agency Office of the Child Representative (OCR) really pushes for kids to be at court, even without the new shift, so that kids have a voice. Their attendance at hearings can also be a powerful reminder of what the cases are about, and it can also help to empower the youth by enabling them to be a part of the legal process.  

Transportation plays into youth court attendance in a more significant way than I think is apparent right off the bat. Let’s say it’s a teen who wants to be at court and wants to be involved and know what’s going on because the decisions made in court have a big impact on day-to-day life. There were multiple instances I witnessed where going to court meant missing an entire day of school to attend a 15- or 30-minute court hearing because of very limited transportation options. In some instances, the only transportation available was the city bus system. The way the bus schedule worked, youth often weren’t able to get back to school even though theoretically they should have only had to spend about an hour total getting to and from school and attending the court hearing. 

And then, of course, there are older foster kids, teens, who are wanting to work and need a way to get there. There are also many older youth who, due to their trauma and needs, attend school on a non-traditional schedule. Facilitating transportation in these instances often proves very challenging. 

Between parent visitation, services, court, unique school schedules or location issues, there’s a massive need for flexible transportation in the foster care system. Foster parents and social workers simply cannot do it all. Further, transportation is often a major barrier for parents all the way around. Finding and facilitating better transportation options can have a major impact on the success of the individual child and the overall, long-term success of both the child and the family. 

What do you like about the work you’re doing at HopSkipDrive?

For me, it’s important to believe in what I’m doing and feel like there’s a larger purpose — a meaningful purpose — behind the hard work. I really believe in HopSkipDrive and its mission. I know HopSkipDrive has an important positive impact on youth and families, and I think we can continue to grow that positive impact as we grow as a company

I have seen firsthand how crucial transportation can be in helping both kids and families, as a whole, succeed. This is especially true when they are up against challenges and involved in extremely hard situations like foster care and navigating services for kids with disabilities. 

Transportation is not always the first thing people think of when trying to problem solve in these circumstances, but it is often a key piece of the puzzle that informs the overall plan — and it is also key to achieving ultimate goals.

Interested in learning more about HopSkipDrive’s non-routine student transportation solution?

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