LOS ANGELES — Local agencies, school districts, and child ridesharing service HopSkipDrive recently teamed up on a pilot to transport kids in foster care to their school of origin to collect data on the costs of a partnership.
The two-year Foster Youth School Stability Transportation pilot, which began in 2017, transported a total of 1,131 students from 65 participating districts to their schools of origin using three tested methods: school bus routes, paying caregivers via education travel reimbursements (ETRs) to transport students, and a public-private partnership with HopSkipDrive, according to an outcome report released by the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Data on the use of school bus routes was only tracked for the Los Angeles Unified School District (USD). The district’s Foster Youth Achievement Program created a referral system to track requests for transportation via school buses. In the first year, about 50 students were transported on school bus routes, the average round trip being 24 miles at an average cost of nearly $8,000 per student per year. In year two of the pilot, 25 students were transported by school bus, with the average round trip being 27 miles at a cost of about $8,726 per student per year. The district spent a total of $613,755 on bus routes.
In both years, only half or less than half of students were offered the bus as an option because a route didn’t exist near the student’s placement, there were safety or developmental concerns about the student, or a caregiver was unable to drop the student off at an existing bus stop. When necessary, Los Angeles USD referred students in foster care to DCFS for stop-gap transportation through HopSkipDrive.
Nearly 90% of the students participating in the pilot used the ridesharing service to get to and from school, for a total of 75,135 rides. The total costs for use of HopSkipDrive were just less than $4 million.
Ridership with the child ridesharing service increased by 717% between year one and year two of the pilot, according to the outcome report, likely due to increased awareness of and communication about the pilot.
The average trip varied from a median of just less than 13 miles with HopSkipDrive to over 24 miles using school bus routes. (In addition to the students being transported as part of this pilot, others received school-of-origin transportation through public transit via Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority TAP fare cards.)
“The law requires systems to act swiftly in the best interests of the child, but often lack systems and resources to schedule and book a ride for often very long distances,” said Qiana Patterson, vice president of strategic development for HopSkipDrive. “It’s not for lack of know-how or willpower; there are just a lot of resource constraints.”
County agency staff members identified the biggest success as over 1,000 students being able to continue to attend their school of origin during “a time of great upheaval for themselves and their families,” according to findings from the pilot.
Other findings include:
- When school districts were initially not receiving notifications that students were being transported by HopSkipDrive, there was confusion when drivers arrived for pick-ups. However, the ridesharing service quickly put a procedure in place to notify staff from the DCFS, social workers, education specialists, district foster youth liaison, and caregivers when a ride was arranged for a student. HopSkipDrive also offers an app that caregivers and social workers can use to track students’ rides to and from school.
- The public-private partnership used in the pilot was considered to be successful enough that a handful of other counties, including San Diego, Sacramento, Santa Clara, and Ventura, and two other states — Colorado and Virginia — have implemented procedures based on the Los Angeles County model.
- Students in foster care have transportation needs besides getting to and from their school of origin, such as to medical, dental, mental health, or visitation appointments. The DCFS will look into whether the model used for this pilot can also be used to fulfill these additional transportation needs.
In addition to accessing school, students in foster care often lack the inability to access "normal kid stuff," Patterson added, whether it's meeting up with friends, attending a Saturday PSAT workshop, or staying late for the homecoming game.
“Things so many kids and families take for granted are simply out of reach for these children, and so they feel apart from the world. So we’ve sought partners who think about the whole child,” Patterson said.
To read the full outcome report, go here.