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Seneca Family of Agencies Awarded a $4 Million Federal Grant to Implement a Family-Focused, Peer Support Model for Increasing Student Engagement and Achievement

Oakland, California, December 15, 2023 – Thanks to the award of a highly competitive Education, Innovation, and Research (EIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the nonprofit Seneca Family of Agencies will lead a collaborative of schools to implement “Compass Care,” a promising new strategy for chronic absenteeism that addresses the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing stressors faced by marginalized students and their families. Across the nation, schools saw high chronic absenteeism rates surge during the pandemic—with the latest figures at double the pre-pandemic rate (from 8 million to 16 million chronically absent students), they have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels (Attendance Works, 2022). Expected to serve over 600 5th-12th grade students at seven schools in California, Tennessee, and Washington, the grant and matching funds will support three years of Compass Care implementation with a dedicated, full-time peer support staff at each school.

The model recognizes that the factors impacting a student’s attendance and engagement in school are numerous and complex, ranging from the individual to the systemic level. Family factors, including poverty, homelessness, disruptions at home and within families, and unmet non-academic needs (e.g., food insecurity, transportation issues, language barriers) are particularly significant. In the Compass Care model, the peer support staff, called the “Family Partner,” leads a team of service providers and natural supports over an intensive 10-week intervention cycle. During this time, they provide engagement, comprehensive case management, and care coordination services to support families of chronically absent students to understand and address barriers to their child’s success in school. Unlike many existing strategies for addressing chronic absenteeism, the model utilizes peer-level staff with relevant lived experience, whose sole responsibility is to provide interventions that combat chronic absenteeism, which supports schools to address absenteeism without burdening already stressed systems. The model also emphasizes flexibility and intensive interventions, allowing immediate, direct support while incorporating evidence-based teaming practices that leverage natural supports to sustain progress.

The EIR funding opportunity will support the implementation of the Compass Care model in seven public middle and high schools serving underrepresented students within Valor Collegiate Academies (Nashville, Tennessee), Highline Public Schools (King County, Washington), and Alliance College-Ready Public Schools California (Los Angeles, California). The project will include oversight by an Advisory Council comprised of education and mental health leaders (Susan Stone, Ph.D., Professor, School of Social Welfare, UC Berkeley; Jose Blackorby, Ph.D., Research Director, WestEd; Daren Dickson, LMFT, Chief Culture Officer, Valor Collegiate Academies; and Nancy Peña, Ph.D., Behavioral Health Consultant), input from a Youth Advisory Board consisting of youth who have participated in the Compass Care program and youth from University of California, Berkeley’s Hope Scholars program, and an independent evaluation conducted by WestEd.

About Seneca Family of Agencies

Seneca was founded in Oakland, California, in 1985 in response to an emerging crisis: children and young people with the most complex needs and unaddressed trauma were being repeatedly failed by multiple siloed public systems intended to support them. Seneca’s foundational mission to do whatever it takes to bring multiple systems together to address the needs of the whole child has driven the agency’s evolution into one of the largest West Coast-based youth-serving behavioral health nonprofits, operating programs across 18 counties in California and two in Washington State. Our programs collaborate with and actively bring together hundreds of schools, school districts, county boards of education, behavioral health departments, child welfare departments, and juvenile probation departments to offer a full spectrum of highly responsive programs that address the multi-faceted needs of children and families.

Robin Detterman
Chief Program Officer, Education Programs
Seneca Family of Agencies
[email protected]
(510) 872-2046
8945 Golf Links Road, Oakland, CA 94605

The contents of this press release were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.