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Jefferson Award Winner Helps East Bay Foster Youth Achieve More

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Sobering statistics about foster youth dropping out of school inspired this week's Jefferson Award winner, a former teacher turned attorney, to take action.

Eighteen-year-old Kayla Williams is one of the young people who have benefited. She just graduated from a high school, a milestone that fewer than half of all foster children achieve.

"If you don't have nobody on your side, you're going to be a failure," Williams explained.

But she did have someone on her side: attorney Daniel Senter.

"I remember Kayla telling me, "It's a lot to hold everything in all the time, to try to control what's going on,'" Senter said.

Williams has been in the Foster Care system since she was five. With each new home, she had to change schools.

"Trying to complete your algebra class, you're switching school five times in one year, it's incredibly difficult," Senter said.

"I could take so much and then I would explode," Williams added. "I'd take it out on teachers, students."

Williams' story all too familiar for Senter, who works at East Bay Children's Law Offices, which represents 1,600 foster youth in Alameda County. A former special education teacher, Senter saw foster children changing schools an average of 6 to 9 times and not getting the educational support they need. So he launched the Education Advocacy Program.

"This is in my mind very much a social justice issue," he said. "If you can reduce the school changes, keep your same friends, your keep your same teachers, keep your same administrators, you are more likely to graduate from high school and that's what we've seen."

Not only does he help keep the kids in their familiar schools, he works with the school to help identify ways they can support the child: tutoring, special education needs, or counseling.

Roger Chan is executive Director of East Bay Children's services. He said Senter's Education Advocacy Program had immediate results: teens are staying in school.

"California youth in foster care have a lot of rights," Chan explained. "But they're only meaningful if someone is going to stand up for them, and that's what Daniel does."

Kayla Williams saw that first-hand.

"He helped by talking to them by explaining to them what the situation was to keep me from getting expelled from school," she remembered.

Williams is now applying to college and looking to secure a brighter future for her 8-month-old daughter Brooklin.

"Dan helped me stay in school, to go back, and don't give up," she said.

So for working on behalf of foster kids to keep them in school, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Daniel Senter.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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