Education for Young People in Foster Care: NC Resource Parent Rights and Responsibilities
by Jonathan Rockoff •
Your license has been approved! You spent the past few months going through the licensing process and learning as much as you could about a child welfare system with many moving parts. Yet if your child is school-aged, you still have more to learn.
School Districts & Enrollment
Even before your license is approved, one of your first responsibilities is to determine which school district you live in and share this information with your agency. Depending on the district, school enrollment will be either your responsibility or the legal guardian’s (i.e., DSS). If you are unsure, ask your school district’s foster care point of contact.
If enrollment will fall to you, call and explain to the school that you are a foster parent who anticipates enrolling a student in the near future. The school will explain the process so you can be ready to enroll the student in a timely way. The child welfare agency should provide you with the paperwork needed for enrollment. Also, don’t forget to ask about before- and after-school programs, which vary from school to school.
Accepting a Placement
When accepting a placement, be aware of your rights. According to North Carolina child welfare policy, you should always have access to the child/youth’s placement information, social/behavioral information, medical history, and educational history. You should receive the Educational Component of the Family Services Agreement and be given educational information up to the point of placement and while the child/youth is in your care.
Within the first 14 days of placement, there will be a shared parenting meeting. This is a great place to learn from the birth family about the child/youth’s strengths and needs related to school and learning.
Know the child/youth’s rights. In 2013, North Carolina passed a Foster Care Bill of Rights. (Click here to read this bill). The fourth right in this bill is “Allowing the child to remain enrolled in the school the child attended before being placed in foster care, if at all possible.”
When making a placement, if it is in their best interest, the child/youth has a right to remain in their current school. This decision is made during a Best Interest Determination meeting, where the child/youth’s team decides if remaining in the “school of origin” would be in the child/youth’s best interest. If the decision is made to change schools, this meeting can facilitate seamless transfer of information from the old school to the new one. During this meeting a decision will also be made regarding school transportation arrangements.
The sixth right from NC’s Foster Care Bill of Rights is “Participation in school extracurricular activities, community events, and religious practices.” I have seen children/youth shine when given the opportunity to socialize with others who share common interests in a positive and uplifting environment—for example, through sports or dance teams or music lessons.
Take the time to get to know the child/youth and their interests. If they have to change schools, try hard to continue any extracurricular activities they were previously engaged in.
Learn about and use the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard, which gives resource parents the authority to grant or withhold permission for certain extracurricular and “normal” activities. (Note: for some activities, the agency or the birth parents must be the decision makers. Click here for more on the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard and extracurriculars.)
Parent Rights and IEPs
Know that when children/youth are in foster care, under federal law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) birth parents retain their parental educational rights unless they are specifically taken away by the court (NC DPI, 2008). As the resource parent, you and the birth parent will be part of the team that makes educational decisions. Work with the birth parent to advocate for the youth.
Parents are expected to participate as equal partners in the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process; they must be invited to attend meetings and an IEP must be shown to parents before it can be implemented. For a handbook outlining parent rights related to the IEP process, click here. Ideally, the social worker should attend this meeting and can arrange for the birth parent and foster parent to attend as well. Both sets of parents need to hear the same information and have a chance to ask questions.
Family foster care parents, guardians, and relatives (e.g., kinship caregivers) who live with the child/youth are legally allowed to fill the parental role in the IEP process. However, a therapeutic foster parent, group home worker, or the DSS worker cannot fill the role of a parent in an IEP meeting (NC DPI, 2014). Guardians ad Litem (GALs) can also serve as a parent in the IEP process if they are appointed to do so by the court (NC DPI, 2008).
Communication Is Key
Communication between all parties is critical. Take the time to reach out to teachers, school nurses, counselors, or anyone who is part of the child/youth’s support system. Create an open line of communication and be present in the school.
Students in foster care benefits from a united support system working towards common goals. I worked with a set of resource parents that exchanged a quick email with their son’s teacher every day. The teacher would report on the child’s behavior that day, and the parents would issue a reward or a consequence at home based on the school behavior. The child quickly learned his parents and teacher were united and his behavior at school AND at home quickly changed for the better.
Be mindful of confidentiality when sharing information. Generally speaking, the school is on a “need to know” basis when it comes to specifics of the child/youth’s past.
Make School a Safe Haven
Caring for a child/youth in school is often much more than helping with homework. It can be IEPs, teacher conferences, phone calls, emails, extracurriculars, field trips, and more. For children/youth who have experienced trauma, school can be challenging. But when we know our rights, the child/youth’s rights, and our responsibilities, we can make the experience one of personal growth, discovery, and empowerment. Resource families strive to make their homes a safe haven. Let’s try to do the same with school.
Jonathan Rockoff is a Training Specialist with the Family and Children’s Resource Program at the UNC School of Social Work.
Supporting the Education of Children in Foster Care
Foster Parent Rights
- Receive information prior to agreeing to the placement of the child/youth, including educational information (e.g., where they will attend school)
- Use the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard to grant or withhold permission for certain extracurricular and “normal” activities (Note: for some activities, the agency or the birth parents must be the decision makers)
- If the child/youth has an IEP:
– Attend IEP meetings and be shown the IEP before it is implemented
– Fill the parent role in IEP meetings (Note: does not apply to TFC parents)
Foster Parent Responsibilities
- Advocate for the child/youth and support their learning and success in school
- Partner with birth parents, teachers, and agency to support the child/youth’s success
- Enroll the child/youth in school (Note: in some locales this is the child welfare agency’s role)
- Make sure the child/youth attends school