All of the children we serve at CASA are also returning to school this week. For many of them, the experience produces anxiety because they lack the support and encouragement to be adequately prepared. This isn’t conjecture. It is a reality. Less than 3% of children in foster care ever earn a college degree and more than half end up homeless or incarcerated within two years of aging out of the system.
After some research, we found some great tips to help prepare your foster child or children ready for the new school year.
- Build Excitement: Building excitement for the upcoming year is a great way to get the child in your care to start thinking about the school year. Do some research on the school and learn about the different activities, clubs and sports that they offer. In addition to attending class and doing homework, make sure to talk about the many opportunities that will be available to him and figure out what he is most excited about. Explain the reward gained when he is a part of a team – not to mention how great it can look when he applies for college in the future.
- Keep in Contact with School and Update Teachers: Reach out to school employees and form 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. It is essential that you remain up to date with your child’s progress, both with academics and behavior. When you have the contact information of your child in care’s teacher, letting him or her know you have a foster child would be a great way to prepare the teacher for possible challenges. Give the teacher an overview and as much information concerning your child in care as you can without breaking confidentiality. Let the teacher know your involvement in your child in care’s life and any challenges you know of that he is facing. Chances are, the teacher will understand and be willing to work with him to ensure he has a successful school year.
- Let School Know About Visitation Day: Visitation day can be hard sometimes. It is likely that your child from foster care will have a difficult time concentrating and focusing on school work the day of a visitation, and many times the day after, as well. When your child is having a emotional or challenging time with visitations, 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, so the child doesn’t fall even further behind.
- Help with School Work: School work will likely not come easy. 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. It is important that you and the child’s teachers set realistic goals for the child. Find out where the child’s learning ability and level of knowledge is, and work with him at this level. Talk to your child’s teachers about his/her abilities and if any accommodations need to be made. Don’t forget to celebrate their successes, no matter how small!
- Be Involved: You can help your foster student in his development 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. Along with this, 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.
- Be Ready: It is going to be tough for your child. A child in foster care often has a very hard time exhibiting proper school behavior during the school day, as school is simply 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. Others may lash out in violent behavior.
- Take A Tour: Before his very first day in class, take some time to go on a tour with your child through the building. Ask an administrator or school counselor to guide you and your child through the school. This will allow your child to feel more comfortable once he begins class.
- Understand This Is Probably Not Fun: School is the last place your foster child wants to be at. He wants to go back to his home, his family, and is simply trying to survive each day. 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. Your child from foster care is depending on you to help him, not just in your home, but at school, as well. Quite simply, if you don’t help him succeed, who will?
- Find the Silver Lining: South Point, OH Foster Mom, Shannon Steele, says its all about finding the silver lining. “I tell them ‘It’s ok if it’s tough. It’s ok if it’s hard. Then I find something they will look forward to, like going to football games and cheering against the rival team.” What interests your foster child about this new adventure?
- Create Back to School Traditions: In my household we spend a day shopping, “Back to School Celebration”, and letting them pick out their new bookbag, lunchbox and some clothes. After shopping, grab something to eat at a favorite place and talk about the upcoming school year. This is also a great time to talk about expectations and what they can expect during the coming year.