Enrolling a child in Pre-K and preparing them to start their educational journey is a very exciting experience. School is one of the main areas that lays the foundations for learning and growth in a child’s life. However, what do we do when a child has not had this experience? How do we respond and advocate for a child who struggles with or has never attended school on a consistent basis?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, “A positive PK-12 education experience has the potential to be a powerful counterweight to the abuse, neglect, separation, impermanence and other barriers these vulnerable students experience”.
This was the case with one of the children in foster care whom I have the privilege of knowing and working with. Before entering foster care, this particular child had 20 absences and 11 tardy slips in their Kindergarten academic school year. Given this information, we were aware that this child did not have an understanding of consistency in school attendance. The foster parents were aware that educational support and advocacy would be a crucial part of their role for this child.
Transitioning to a new school is very difficult for children of all ages. Being in a new environment and struggling with personal trauma from moving into a foster home can cause certain behaviors to arise. Due to his lack of consistent school attendance and participation, the transition into school was very challenging. As a result of his behavior, this particular child was immediately isolated from his peers. The foster parents stayed in constant communication with this child’s teacher and became aware of a separation he was experiencing in the classroom. The teacher moved him from a table with his peers to a singular desk in the corner with tape on the floor. Seeing the effects of the isolation, they immediately took action by meeting with the teacher as well as other members of the educational staff. Although they initially did not receive the support and resources necessary for this child, they remained persistent with the school. They valued the child’s educational foundation and purposely faced all road blocks that could possibly hinder his development. A meeting was established with all parties involved with this child, including attorneys and social workers. Through the foster parent’s persistence, a 504 plan was created that tailored to the child’s strengths and needs.
Watching this child grow academically has been an amazing example of how educational advocacy is an important component of being a foster parent. This child is now thriving in school and receiving valuable services throughout the school day. He even received student of the month! The foster parents continue to monitor his progress and have since formed great relationships with the school administrators and staff. Through small steps, the foster parents have helped create an environment where this child has grown and continues to learn in spite of his previous academic shortcomings.
There are many ways to advocate for your foster child academically:
- Attend/request IEP and 504 Plan meetings
- Request weekly updates from the student’s teacher on their progress
- Attend parent/teacher conferences
- Update the teacher on changed behaviors the child is experiencing
- Be persistent!
- Involve the child’s attorney or other legal parties if necessary
- Encourage and support the child in their educational journey
- Disclose information about the child’s history only when allowed and deemed beneficial to help the school meet their educational needs
- Reach out to school counselors and other resources for support
- Communicate needs, questions, and concerns with the social workers involved
- Listen and act as their voice! Your voice matters!
View other resources for additional guidance for you and your foster child:
By: Abbie Cox, Nightlight Foster Care Advocate