School has started again in California and you’re a foster parent who wants the best for your child! You’ve probably budgeted for new school supplies, got a cool lunch pail, and for your foster teens, maybe a school shopping trip for some new clothes. You’re also aware that school for your foster child may look different than their peers and want to know how you can support them.
There are a few different aspects to the educational experience for foster children. The nuances vary depending on needs in academics vs behavior and age. You should also be aware of what your rights are when it comes to decision making. There are a couple policies like IDEA and ESSA that dictate your rights and what services may be available to your foster student. If you ever have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out to your social worker with at your foster agency.
What happens day to day in the classroom is also important. Certain assignments, language, and dynamics can all uniquely affect your child due to their foster status. We’ll go over all these aspects so you can have an overview of how to best support your foster child in their education!
In the School System
Foster youth challenge the odds when it comes to succeeding in school. Their lives typically involve moving a lot, having court appointments and scheduled visits, and often living in transition. That’s why two of the most important things a foster parent can provide is consistency and a place the child can rest and try to establish a routine.
When a student’s life is in crisis or transition, their learning can become less of a priority or stop being one at all. Many foster children are placed in special education for either academic or behavioral issues, even when they may not need them. It’s a good idea to double check if your foster child needs special services in the first place.
Foster children commonly face harsher discipline from teachers and administrators. This can compound into a child feeling rejected and angry, pushing them to riskier behavior and ending up in the criminal justice system. Behavior issues often stem from trauma and being in survival mode. Be sure your foster child has access to counseling for their trauma so they can work through it in a healthy way to heal.
There’s always hope. School can also provide opportunities to find creative and constructive outlets for a student to start building confidence and self-esteem. Foster children have access to mentors and coaches who can challenge them to be their best. Finding a place where they can excel outside of the classroom can still have positive effects on their academic success.
Certain extra curriculars are universal and can transfer even when a foster youth must transfer schools – which we try to prevent as often as possible. Activities like sports, art, music, and theatre can usually be found at any school or in a community.
The point is to help them get connected, build relationships, and motivate them to do well in school. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers some protections that relate to a foster student switching schools.
Educational Plans and Decision Making
As a foster parent, try to be as aware of their school’s policies as possible. Due to some laws, you may not be permitted to know if your foster youth has an Educational Plan (EP) to help them get caught up academically or behaviorally. You can work with your social worker or foster child’s biological parents to resolve this in some cases.
Your rights as a foster parent will vary from state to state, but IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)allows for biological and adoptive parents certain rights, like being able to participate in their child’s education. Biological parents are also able to participate in their child’s education even if they live elsewhere, by being on calls and other forms of communication.
Use your resources to ask questions and find out your state’s regulations. Work with your social worker and the school to find out how you can be involved and best support. The best support for a foster child is having the people most invested in their life be on the same team.
Child and Family Team or CFT meetings are an excellent place to ask your questions and collaborate. They include parents, other family members, social workers, and other people in the support network of the foster child.
Advocate for Your Foster Child
Some things you can also advocate for and be aware of are your schools sports transfer and anti-bullying policies. If your foster child really enjoys athletics, see if the waiting period can be waived if they transfer schools so they can get connected quickly.
Your foster child is more likely to face bullying because of being new or “different.” Be a cheerleader and listening ear for your foster child and work with a school counselor and teachers if you’re concerned.
Inclusive language can also go a long way. Family tree projects or family member-based projects and celebrations can make a foster child feel excluded. Luckily, these days the world is much more inclusive with its language around family dynamics.
As cheesy as it sounds, asking your foster child how their day went at school is a must. Even though they will probably resent it as much as any biological child. Especially at the beginning of your relationship. But keep showing up for them, they need it more than they realize.
Don’t be afraid to ask specific and direct questions; like if they need help at school, if their homework is shorter than other kids. Encourage and engage them in their academic careers. This also gives them an opportunity to process out loud which can be very helpful for their own awareness and reflection.
School can be hard for any kid. If they are struggling, they will show it by stress and/or avoidance. Some younger children will try to avoid going to school altogether.
Celebrate every win you can. For example, if your foster student typically gets D’s for their work, when they get a C treat it like an A+. Maybe their challenge is just getting the work in on time. When they do turn it in, reward them. This is a great opportunity to create a long-term based goal to build good habits. It will positively demonstrate working hard for something while being held accountable.
Hope for a Better Future
Trends in recent years seem to be pushing towards foster youth being more seen and receiving more support. Hopefully we will also see a growth in funding for schools to better support every student.
We know success is possible for our foster youth. Graduating high school is the first step. At the college level we have seen former foster children reach the top levels of their classes. One example we have at Victor FFA is Mich who graduated with his doctorate from USC. His success was based on his education and sports. His foster mother, Celedonia, placed high value on education and made sure to help her foster children with their schoolwork.
A Team Behind You
You won’t have to do this alone. Both your Victor FFA team and other foster parents can help you with this aspect of foster parenting. Do you know other foster parents at the same school your child is at? Form a group to trade tips and be a support system for one another. The next thing you know, you could be watching your foster children walk across the stage at graduation together.
Education is the gateway to a better life and breaking generational cycles. Together, our team will work side by side with you to answer your questions and ensure you have the resources you need. Becoming a foster parent means you are opening your home to a child in need and offering a new perspective and opportunity for them to be safe and cared for. If you want to learn more, please contact us or get our free ebook in the link below!