By Brooke Chaplan
On any average day in the United States, there are up to 415,000 kids in the foster care system. Children may be placed in foster care for a variety of reasons such as abuse, neglect, exposure to alcohol and drugs, domestic violence, or homelessness. Unfortunately, after undergoing oftentimes traumatic life events, foster children enter into an imperfect system that often fails them. Teens in foster care can have a particularly tough time. One area that falls short when serving kids in foster care is the school system, but there are things that can be done to help these vulnerable students adjust to and thrive in their new environment.
Foster children are often removed from disruptive or abusive situations. As a result, there may be educational delays and discrepancies that need to be addressed. Schools are set up to provide counseling and educational intervention to students. Unfortunately, these services may take time to set up and qualify for. School districts need to act proactively and do their best to expedite the testing process to make the transition as seamless as possible. Having an intervention team – including people such as the foster parents, teachers, counselors, school psychologists, administrators, and social workers – is key to helping ensure academic success.
With academic stress generally on the rise among all students in American schools, foster students are certainly not immune. Between more rigorous course work, more frequent testing, and peer pressure, over 45% of high school students reported feeling high levels of stress pertaining to school. A little bit of stress is not necessarily bad, and may trigger hard work and organization. Too much stress, however, is extremely detrimental. It is imperative that foster students have the support of the parents and school to help find the appropriate balance in order to maximize potential without adding to an already stressful situation.
Homeschooling of foster kids is possible if the circumstances warrant it, such as situations where it is deemed best for the child. However, the option of homeschooling must be approved by the caseworker. Many foster students would benefit tremendously from one on one teaching. The biggest pro is having the ability to set up a specialized course that is specific to the student’s needs. Where they have gaps in knowledge or understanding, the efficient homeschool teacher will be able to rectify and fill in these areas. It takes a lot more involvement on the part of the parents, but can be well worth the effort. Some cons might be the effort involved as well as the difficulties students might have adjusting to this type of schooling model.
Children in the foster system often face significant and frequent upheavals, moves to different homes, transitions to different school districts, and separation from siblings. Since many foster kids don’t know who they will be living with, or where they will be living in a week, it is hard for them to even think about planning longer term. But for teens in the foster system, planning for the future is of utmost importance. Teens need role models, life coaches, and opportunities to develop into the people they can be. Foster parents should support activities in which the teen is interested – whether it is sports, art, music, volunteering or advocacy. These activities not only give teens a sense of identity and connection but also help them to set goals for beyond high school and after foster care.
Foster children of any age face many difficult obstacles; however these obstacles are far from insurmountable. Parents, teachers, and school counselors can work together to give foster kids hope for the future. Foster students will also be in regular contact with a personal case worker, qualified with an online social work degree or similar background. They should know the student’s history and be prepared to offer proactive solutions. Along with careful planning and placement in a loving foster family, the support team has a tremendous opportunity to serve these kids during an especially vulnerable time.