The180

OPINION: Overhaul the foster care system with boarding schools

The state of group homes in B.C. and Alberta has reached crisis level. To some, the solution is to make sure all children in care have foster families. But Shenandoah Chefalo, who grew up in foster care, says the best plan is to set up boarding schools for foster kids.
This fall, the province of Alberta investigated an Edmonton group home where a 17-year-old girl lived before she was charged with murder. The agency running the home shut it down. (CBC)

The state of group homes in B.C. and Alberta has reached crisis level, with a recent B.C. government report revealing problems that range from caregivers with criminal records to inappropriate physical discipline.

While that may have some people pushing to shut down group homes all together, Shenandoah Chefalo, who grew up in foster care and documented her experience in her book, "Garbage Bag Suitcase", says the alternative — family foster care — isn't much better.

She says the best plan is to set up boarding schools for foster kids. 

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length. 

Could you tell us more about your idea of boarding schools for foster children?

Absolutely. The idea is that over the time in foster care, we've had children in all sorts of different systems: from orphanages, to group homes to family foster care. And my idea is that we've seen many negative outcomes for kids who are in traditional family foster homes and I started researching the idea of sending foster children to boarding schools. Some of the most successful people are sending their children to boarding schools — those who can afford it — to get the best education and offer them the best opportunities. And it seems to me a natural fit that our children who are struggling the most might be able to benefit from a similar situation.

Are there any examples of schools, in the U.S., where this is being tried?

Yes, my favourite example is the Crossnore School in Crossnore, North Carolina. They were actually a school for mountain kids for the last 100 years and in the last 25 years they've been boarding and schooling strictly foster children. And they are seeing amazing outcomes in the approach that they're using.

So if this model is so successful, why aren't there more schools like it?

I think people are reluctant to go to this model because there's been so much negative press about group homes, in general: That they're poorly run, that they are basically detentions or jails for children and the outcomes that some of those group homes are seeing are devastating to children... Unfortunately, not all group homes are managed well and there are some that are performing poorly. But, on the contrary, there are some that are performing exponentially and I think those that we see performing very well have education at their core and are performing services outside of just being a housing facility.

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.

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