In order for a child in foster care to succeed in school, his foster parents must be leading the charge and blazing a path as his advocate, fighting for his every chance. In truth, it is likely that the foster student will have no other person fighting for him, as his caseworker’s work load is an overwhelming one, and his teachers may be too busy to reach out with information, or may not have the necessary information about the child that they need in order to meet his needs. Therefore, it is up to the foster parent to be pro-active in the child’s life at school. For many children in foster care, their foster parents are not very involved, as we explored in chapter five. Unfortunately, this will be to the detriment and disadvantage of the child. Instead, foster parents need to become as involved as possible with their foster child’s school. The more a foster parent is seen in the school; the more the foster parent is heard by the teachers; the more the foster parent is involved in extra-curricular activities that the school offers for students, the more likely the child will succeed in school, and later in life.
To begin with, foster parents need to ensure, from the very beginning that the child is placed into their home, that he is enrolled in and attending school. As we have noted before, this may not always be the case for a child in care. Perhaps the child was never enrolled by his birth parents for that year; perhaps he is moving from one school district to another; perhaps he had been absent from school for great periods of time, and was not attending on a regular basis. In any case, foster parents need to make certain that their foster child is enrolled in school. Yet, before taking steps into their own hands, foster parents need to work alongside their foster child’s caseworker in this regard. After all, it is likely that the case worker is also working along the same line, and making plans to have the child enrolled. On the other hand, there is also the possibility that the child’s case worker has many other responsibilities and tasks to attend to at that time, and may not be able to attend to enrollment right away. However, as we have examined throughout the preceding chapters, the more school a foster child misses, the further he will fall behind.
If the foster student should not have his transcripts and school records with him upon placement into a new foster home, foster parents should contact his case worker, asking this social worker about these important school documents. If indeed the case worker is too busy to attend to this at the time, foster parents should take steps to contact the previous school about the transcripts and school records. Perhaps, if need be and if possible, the foster parents can drive to the child’s previous school and request the student’s school documents. If a foster parent should do this, it is imperative that he have with him personal identification, as well as documentation that he has custody of the foster child. This may include signed papers by both the foster parents and the child’s case worker. To be sure, schools will not release any school transcripts and records without this proof of custody. As a result, the child may not be able to enroll into his new school, and may even be classified as a “drop out” if he should miss too many days.
Many times teachers are unable to best assist a student in foster care, simply because they do not have enough information on the child, or any information, for that matter. We also know that teachers do need this information if they are they are to be successful in meeting a foster child’s specific needs and challenges. Foster parents can help teachers in this regard by providing as much information as they are permitted to with school educators. Though there may be in place certain privacy laws and regulations in regard to sharing personal information with educators about students in foster care, the United States Congress passed the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to provide clarity about what is permissible in the sharing of education records with Child Welfare Agencies. This will allow schools to release the child’s educationrecords to child welfare agencies without the prior written consent of the biological parents. The Uninterrupted Scholars Act is intended to improve the foster student’s well-being, and to increase permanency within his foster home. To be sure, this will be most helpful for foster parents when trying to obtain school records and transcripts for the student in care.
After obtaining transcripts and other school records, foster parents can be very helpful by delivering these to the student’s new schools. Furthermore, foster parents can also assist both the child and school educators by requesting to meet with the school teachers and counselor in upon enrolling the student. During these meetings, foster parents can share with the school educators as much personal information as they are able and permitted to in regards to the child and his history, as well as any behavioral challenges and learning disabilities the child may be experiencing. If the foster parents are aware of any behavior modifications that might work for the child, these can be shared, as well. To be sure, this information will go a long way for educators towards understanding the child, building positive relationships between the two, and helping the child succeed in the school.
Foster parents can also aid their foster child by reaching out to school employees, forming a positive and healthy working relationship with them. The child’s foster parents should let school counselors, teachers, and administrators know that they can call the foster parents if needed, providing contact information to the educators; such as phone numbers and email addresses. In the same token, foster parents should obtain contact information from the child’s teachers, as well. Foster parents should attempt to remain in regular contact with the child’s teachers. One way to do this is by requesting regular email updates from teachers and staff. Indeed, foster parents should use all forms and means of communication as possible. 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. Find out which ones the teacher prefers and uses most often, and use it to reach out to the child’s educators. This may mean learning how to use these communication formats. Talk to others, take personal classes, and research how to use these various 21st century means of communication. After all, most teachers are busy, and a postal letter or land line phone call may not be the best means of staying in contact with the child’s teachers and school counselor.
Along with this, teachers can ask the school counselor to set up a weekly progress report. In this report, teachers document the child’s weekly grades, what assignments might be missing, upcoming tests, projects, and homework for the following week, and any behavior problems that might have occurred throughout the week, too. Furthermore, this weekly progress report may also include academic and behavioral successes the student exhibited during the week, allowing both teacher and foster parent the opportunity to praise the child in foster care, thus encouraging him to continue in this manner, building pride in his accomplishments, and knowledge that his efforts are recognized and appreciated. For many children in foster care, words of encouragement and praise are likely to have been seldom heard before coming into care, and can go a long way towards healing.
Not only should foster parents request regular behavior updates from the child’s school, a responsible foster parent will also provide such information to the school, as well. If a foster child should be having a particularly difficult time in the foster home, foster parents should let the teachers and counselors know, allowing these educators to be better prepared and equipped to handle any difficulties that might come their way. In chapter one, we saw that there are those times when visitations with birth parents and biological family members may be distressing to a child, causing further emotional anxieties and concerns for the child; both leading up to the visitation and following it. These anxieties may spill over into the classroom, as the foster child struggles to manage the emotions that are spinning within him. As a result, the student may have a difficult time focusing on his school work, and his behavior, as he attempts to simply endure his feelings, and his status as a foster child.
When foster children are indeed having a difficult time with visitations, or highly anxious about it, foster parents can help their child by informing the teachers beforehand, giving them some notice in advance. A note in the child’s school agenda, an email, a text message, or a phone call; all are means that the foster parent can use to notify teachers and school counselors. Along with this, foster parents might 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. Though this recommendation may not be met by the caseworker, it is important, nevertheless, for the foster parent to make this request, as it might just be granted.