By Dr. John DeGarmo
Foster children typically perform poorly in school for a variety of reasons. Multiple displacements from home to home often results in foster children becoming dissatisfied with school, and quickly losing interest. Transcripts and school records are often missing or incomplete when a student enrolls into a new school, many times resulting in the children not being enrolled in classes designed to best help them, nor getting the resources they need to succeed. Along with this, many times, teachers and administrators are not aware that the student is a foster child, nor aware of the many emotional difficulties and traumas that foster children face, in general.
For a foster child to succeed in school, the foster parents need to act as advocates for the child. Everything about a new school, from the teachers, students, hallways, classrooms, cafeteria, and all that happens inside the walls of the building, will be a reminder to the student that he is in foster care, and not his own school, nor his own home. Foster parents can help this time of transition and displacement, as they help their foster child adjust to a new home and new school.
Often times when a foster child is enrolled into a new school, a period of time may elapse before the new school gets the transcripts from the previous school. This may result in the child being placed in the wrong classrooms and courses, or classes that the child is simply not equipped to succeed in. Foster parents need to ensure that all transcripts, grades and school records are sent to the new school as soon as possible. Foster parents can best aid their child by calling the previous school and having them sent over to the new school.
At the outset, foster parents should meet with the child’s teachers, school counselor and administrators upon enrollment of the child. During this meeting, foster parents need to begin building a strong foster parent-school partnership. If possible, the foster parent should inform these school employees of the child’s status as a foster parent, and, if permissible by the caseworker, share some of the reasons why the child is in care. This information may go a long way in helping school employees understand the foster child’s background. Foster parents can also suggest that teachers set reasonable homework tasks during the first few weeks and months of the child’s placement.
Communication is vital in order for a foster parent and school partnership to work effectively. Foster parents must work more diligently at two-way communication between school and community via newsletters, phone calls, emails and a school website. Foster parents need to also embrace the newest technology in such communication modes as blogs, SKYPE and other virtual media that favor meaningful parental involvement. Also, foster parents can attend school functions, student activities and parent nights and find ways to volunteer within the school.
Visitations with birth parents and biological family members can often be stressful emotionally for a foster child. Indeed, foster parents may find that they are “starting over again” with the child. This can very well carry over into school the day after the visit, or even the day of, as the child becomes anxious about the visit. Foster parents can help by informing teachers about any upcoming visits beforehand, as well as letting those involved know what transpires in a visitation setting, the possible outcomes afterward and how to best respond to them. This simple step of informing teachers and school administrators before-hand, can go a long way in helping all to understand the child’s behavior, as well as helping to diffuse any problems that may occur.
Foster children do indeed have a tremendous amount of challenges awaiting them as they move to a new home and to a new school. By setting up weekly contact, establishing homework strategies and creating a working relationship with teachers and school administrators, foster parents will be able to help their foster child be successful both in academics and behavior in school, in home and, later on, in society, as well.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, 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 passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of “Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story,” and the new book “The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home.” He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both in the United States and overseas. Dr. DeGarmo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website, www.drejohndegarmo.com.