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Jennifer Martinez, a sophomore at Skyline High School in foster care, outside a school board where she challenged the board to save her case manager's position.

School budget woes strain the bonds between Oakland foster youth and their case managers

on May 13, 2019

There are just under 400 foster youth attending Oakland schools, and for many, one person at their school is dedicated to them: their case manager. This counselor provides support and offers one-on-one guidance—academically and for other issues that may arise outside of school. The Oakland Unified School District has four case managers for foster youth, but their jobs were threatened in March, when the school board passed budget cuts eliminating their positions.

After a sustained effort by students to push school and city officials to find alternative funding, in April the Oakland City Council stepped in with a resolution to restore the money. The resolution—authored by Council President Rebecca Kaplan (At-Large) and councilmembers Sheng Thao (District 4), Noel Gallo (District 5), and Nikki Fortunato Bas (District 2)—provided $1.2 million for student programs that were cut in March. $510,000 of that funding will be split between funding school libraries and the manager positions.

But the problem isn’t solved yet. This funding is only good for the upcoming school year, and the city council made it clear that next time the school district will be responsible for filling this hole. Plus, it’s not quite enough money. It can only cover three case manager positions for next school year, rather than the current four. In fact, there are supposed to be five, but one position is unfilled. Crystal Rudecino, one of the case managers, worries that reducing the number to three will make their caseload unmanageable.

Even worse, for the month or so that those positions were cut, the uncertainty made it hard for case managers to focus on their students’ issues. They were busy making sure that other staff—who are not trained to work with foster youth—would be able to provide at least a portion of the services they offer.

The ambiguity also started to corrode keys aspects of the relationship between case managers and the students who rely on them: trust and stability. A stable bond between them is essential because, outside of school, foster youth can get cycled from one group home to another, with different adults constantly rotating through as their caregivers.

For Jennifer Martinez, a sophomore at Skyline High School, Rudecino was one of the few adults in her life who has stuck with her and who she feels truly understands her situation. A few days after the city council resolution passed, Oakland North sat down with Rudecino, Martinez, and Shamont Waters, another foster youth case manager, to learn more about the relationships they build.

Click the audio piece below to hear what they had to say.

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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: oaklandnorthstaff@gmail.com.

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