Shared Parenting and School SuccessKids win when resource parents, birth parents, and schools work together
by Donna Foster •
If you know me, you know I’m a big fan of shared parenting. I cherish any chance I get to explain why I think this practice is good for children, birth families, and foster families.
In North Carolina, shared parenting usually starts with a face-to-face meeting between birth and foster parents within the first two weeks of placement. After that, though, it takes place in all sorts of ways, including letters, calls, visits, and joint trips to medical appointments. I think some of the best and most important opportunities for shared parenting occur around school.
Shared Parenting Around School
School is a natural place for birth and foster parents to come together. They both care about the development, learning, and well-being of the child, and that’s what school and teachers are all about, too. When things go very well, birth parents, foster parents, and the child’s teachers are on the same page and use the same language to teach the child academics and social skills and to give them a sense of safety and belonging. This can really improve the child’s development and growth!
That’s not to say shared parenting around school is always easy. For some people the word “school” conjures up past accomplishments and friendships. But for others it can be intimidating or trigger stressful memories. Add to this the fact that in some cases parents know or suspect they are involved with the child welfare system thanks to a CPS report that came from a teacher, school nurse, or principal. In this situation, it can be a struggle for a parent to turn around and work with the school system, even if it is on their child’s behalf.
Even so, school is a prime place for shared parenting. Teachers welcome any parent who wants to learn how to support their child’s learning. Now, our job as foster parents, birth parents, and social workers is to get the same excitement from school staff and other resource people in supporting us as we work together for the child.
One Approach to Try
Here is one approach to doing shared parenting around schools I would like to offer. I hope this is a helpful starting point.
Step 1. Meet Before Approaching the School. Start with a meeting involving foster parents, birth parents, and the child’s social worker to plan how to work together to support the child’s educational success. Birth parents can share the child’s educational history and anything important to the child’s learning such as fears, learning needs, medications, and relevant diagnoses. If needed (e.g., a birth parent has learning disabilities), create a plan for assisting the birth parents in the school setting so they can participate on the team at their child’s school.
Step 2. Social worker meets with school personnel. At this meeting the social worker explains shared parenting to the child’s teacher, principal, assistant principal, and school counselor. Based on this meeting, the social worker could develop a written agreement about what the plan will be and who is involved. For example, the plan could state that DSS encourages the foster parents to advocate for the student and to include the birth parent in meetings, lunchtime visits, and other school events. It could also state the teacher will update the social worker about any successes or concerns related to the student, birth family, or foster family. Copies should be provided to the birth parent, foster parent, principal, and assistant principal.
Step 3. Parent-teacher meeting. Next, foster and birth parents meet with the child’s teacher to learn about the child’s needs and how to meet them. Before this meeting the foster and birth parents should write down their questions and concerns to share with each other and the teacher.
Ideally, the birth parent will take the lead in this meeting while the foster parent takes notes. If appropriate, the foster parent may need to coach the birth parent prior to the meeting on how to be the lead person. This meeting is a learning opportunity for the birth parent. Encouragement will heighten the birth parent’s self-esteem and confidence.
If necessary, the foster parent should remind the teacher to speak directly to the birth parent during the meeting.
Step 4. Continue to involve birth parents in their child’s schooling. Be creative! Birth parents can encourage their child, assist in homework, and attend school activities and lunches. They can attend school plays, team sports, and other school functions their child participates in. Make sure they get the message that their involvement is needed and appreciated. Believe me, this will reduce family stress because you are including the birth parents and not excluding them.
Step 5. Keep everyone updated. Birth parents and foster parents should share with each other any new information they have about how the child is doing in school. This information should also be given in writing to the social worker.
Get to know others from school the child may have a positive relationship with. This might include teachers, school counselors, secretaries, the school psychologist, the school nurse, principals and assistant principals, custodians, cafeteria staff, librarians, and bus drivers. Listen carefully when the child speaks about people at school and share important information with the social worker.
As reunification approaches, birth parents should be even more deeply involved so they can continue to support the child’s learning once the child returns home.
Let’s get pumped up! As the box below shows, we have a ton of educational resources in our schools and communities to help our children! And if foster parents, birth parents, and social workers come together with the school program, children will meet their educational potential.
Donna Foster is a national trainer, consultant, and author of the series “Shelby and Me: Our Journey Through Life Books.”
Educational Resources for Children and Families
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Title I, Part A (Title I). Provides financial assistance to schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure all children meet challenging state academic standards.
Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC). A nonprofit dedicated to empowering families and improving lives, particularly for NC families raising children ages 0 to 26 with disabilities. Staffed primarily with parents of children with disabilities, ECAC understands the needs of families as they navigate the special education process.
NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). NCDPI’s vision is “every public school student will graduate ready for post-secondary education and work, prepared to be a globally engaged and productive citizen.” http://www.ncpublicschools.org
Parent Teacher Association (PTA). PTAs are a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and strong advocates for the education and well-being of children.
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Nonprofit providing education, advocacy, and support for individuals with ADHD. http://www.chadd.org