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Foster parents must be involved in school to help kids succeed

For children in foster care to succeed in school, foster parents must lead the charge and blaze a path as an advocate, fighting for a child’s every chance. In truth, it is likely that foster students will have no other person fighting for them, since a caseworker’s workload is overwhelming, and teachers may be too busy to reach out with information or may not have the necessary information about a child’s needs.

Therefore, it is up to foster parents to be proactive in a child’s life at school. Foster parents need to become as involved as possible. The more active parents are in school and activities, the more likely children will succeed.  


Do

Do stay in constant contact with teachers and counselors

Foster parents can help their foster children by reaching out to school employees and forming a positive working relationship with them. Let school counselors, teachers and administrators know that they can always call or email you if needed.

Also obtain contact information from your child’s teachers. Attempt to remain in regular contact with them. One way to do this is by requesting regular email updates from teachers and staff. Use all forms and means of communication. Through text messages, email, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, there are numerous ways to reach out to teachers and school employees.

Do update emotional, behavioral and academic successes and failures to teachers

Not only should foster parents request regular behavior updates from the child’s school, but a responsible foster parent will provide such information to the school as well. If your foster child is having a particularly difficult time at home, let the teachers and counselors know, allowing these educators to be prepared and equipped to handle any difficulties that might come their way. 

Do inform the school about visitation dates/times, as well as problems that may result

When foster children are having a difficult time with visitations, or are highly anxious about them, you can help your child by informing the teachers beforehand, giving them some notice in advance.

A note in your child’s school agenda, an email, a text message, or a phone call are all means that you can use to notify teachers and school counselors. Along with this, you can suggest to the child’s caseworker that visitations and medical appointments be made after school or on weekends, in order to not miss any more days of school, consequently falling even further behind.  

Do assist kids with homework and studying

One important key to success is to set reasonable and realistic expectations for the child. Find out where the child’s learning ability and level of knowledge is--and work with him or her at this level. Talk to your child’s teachers about his/her abilities and if any accommodations need to be made. You should encourage your child to set goals and expectations, as you may be the only adult who has ever given the child any confidence and encouragement in school. 

Do attend school functions and volunteer consistently

Foster parents can help their foster student in the development of skills by encouraging your child to participate in activities outside of the classroom. Many schools have extracurricular organizations and activities with various school sports, music, and clubs. Likewise, community sports and organizations also allow kids the opportunity to not only participate and develop these skills, but to learn new skills, develop talents and to exercise.

It is important to remember that many social skills were likely not taught, nor valued, in your child’s previous home, so these will take time to develop. Volunteering in school activities is another method that foster parents can use when attempting to help their child in school. Volunteering at school does not need to be extensive, as foster parents can volunteer their time for as long or as little as they like in many schools. Studies show that the children who have parents volunteer generally have better grades, score higher on tests, and have better social skills and behavior.  


Don't

Do not assume caseworkers will pass along information to schools

Caseworkers are often underpaid, under-resourced, overworked and overwhelmed. Budget cuts have made a difficult job even more difficult for social workers who work with children in foster care. With a decrease in funding comes a decrease in the number of social workers employed by an agency.

Yet, as the number of social workers decreases, the number of children placed in foster care remains the same. As a result, the responsibilities of a social worker are increasing, as they take on more roles and caseloads. Unfortunately, an overwhelmed and busy caseworker may not be able to attend to tasks immediately, and a child may not be placed into a school immediately. Kids may miss a few days as the new school waits for transcripts and other important information from the child’s previous school. 

Do not believe schools will have the resources and information to best meet a child’s needs

In truth, it is almost impossible in today’s educational climate for a teacher to truly help a student in foster care. To start with, teachers are not trained about foster children and the foster care system. While foster parents undergo rigorous and extensive training before taking a child into their homes, teachers and educators do not have any training in this field.

Make no mistake, there are certain challenges that children in foster care experience due to the unique traumas they have faced. Traumas that require specific training and understanding in order to best meet the needs of these troubled children. Working with children in foster care often requires specific knowledge, training and understanding.  

Do not expect foster kids to have strong academic performances in a new school

Foster children, in general, tend to perform below level in regard to both academic performance and positive behavior. And most children in foster care are behind in math and reading skills. As a result, many foster children are behind in their work, have failing scores, and are often held back from being promoted to the next grade level. Sadly, 55 percent of children in foster care will drop out of school and not graduate with a high school diploma.

Do not think all foster children will be excited about attending a new school

Foster children often have a difficult time exhibiting proper school behavior during the school day. For many, school is a constant reminder that they are, indeed, foster children without a true home. The continuous reminder that their peers are living with biological family members, while they are not, is a difficult reality for them and can be manifested in several ways.

Some foster children simply withdraw and become antisocial in an attempt to escape their current environment. For many foster children, violent behavior becomes the norm, as they not only act out in a negative and disruptive fashion in school, but in their foster home as well. This can prompt yet another move to a new foster home and another school. 

Do not presume teachers, school counselors and administrators will reach out to parents

Communication between school counselors, teachers, administrators and caseworkers can be paramount in times of emergency, especially concerning a foster child’s behavior or academic understanding. Yet, school employees may not have the contact information for a foster parent or caseworker. And school employees may not have the time to reach out to the child’s foster parents regarding problems with academics and behavior, due to increased work loads, testing requirements, and other increased expectations placed upon busy teachers.


Summary
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There are many ways that foster parents can help their students in foster care succeed in school. Without the support of parents, children in care are likely to struggle--and may even fail in both academics and behavior. To succeed, a child needs his or her foster parents to be included, invested and involved.   


More expert advice about Adoption and Foster Care

Photo Credits: Concentrated young girl doing her school home-work by ccaetano via BigStock; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Dr. John DeGarmoLeading expert in the foster care system

Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent since 2002, and he and his wife have had over 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering pass...

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