Vol. 9, No. 1• November 2004

Advocating in School for the Children in Your Care

Schools are generally well-equipped to cope with the “average” child, one with no special problems. Children in foster or kinship care and those who have been adopted after being in care often do have difficulties in school. They may be behind academically, or have trouble getting along with teachers or other children, or be stuck in behavior patterns which make it hard for them to learn.

Part of your job as a resource parent is to make sure the school recognizes your child’s academic challenges and takes some action to address them. Schools are required by law to provide certain kinds of services to meet special needs, but don’t assume it will be done automatically. You may need to assume the role of advocate for your children to ensure that they receive the services to which they are entitled. Here are tips for helping you get your child’s educational needs met:

Learn assertiveness skills. Assertiveness is an attitude and a set of relational skills that help you get what you want without being angry or aggressive. You may be able to find a short class in assertiveness skills through your local school district or community college. It’s a great subject for in-service training—suggest that your agency or foster parent association develop and teach a course on it.

Within the limits of confidentiality rules, let your child’s teacher know enough about the child’s background to help him or her understand special problems. When information cannot be disclosed, stay focused on what the teacher needs to know to help the child in school. The details of an event in a child’s life may not be as important as the effect the event is having.

Build a relationship with the child’s teacher over time. Introduce yourself soon after the child is placed in the classroom, and talk regularly about how school is going—including what is going well. Don’t wait until a major problem occurs.

Put the teacher in touch with the child’s school history. If possible, help the teacher contact the child’s former teacher and school to find out about academic status, strengths, challenges, and history.

Describe the ways that foster care placement impacts schooling. Help the teacher understand that children and youth in care tend not to perform as well in school as others; this is often due not to inability or a learning disability, but to school and family issues that make it difficult for the child to succeed. For example, the enormous emotional burden of grief, loss, and uncertainty about the future can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and learn.

Help the teacher understand the impact of placement changes. Explain that each move a child makes can delay his or her academic level by months and that many children in foster care have a harder time learning because of what they have been through. Note also that some kids in care have experienced educational settings in which they were not supported well because they were seen as transient students bound to be moved again.

Support efforts to help the child experience success. Help the teacher structure materials and tasks in the classroom to help the child achieve success in some areas, even if academics are a problem. For example, the teacher can foster a sense of competence by giving the child responsibility for feeding an animal, watering plants, or passing out supplies.

Share written resources. If you have any books that depict foster, adoptive, and relative caregiving families, share them with the teacher. This can broaden the diversity of families to which all the children in the classroom are exposed.

Understand that your child may not be able to complete certain assignments. For example, constructing a family tree or bringing in a baby picture can be impossible for a child who has been frequently and suddenly moved, suffered neglect, or has little contact with birth family. Similarly, getting permission for a special activity such as a field trip can be problematic if you do not have the legal authority to give permission for the child. Make sure the teacher understands these issues.

Be constructive and respectful. Some teachers may feel challenged by highly involved resource parents who advocate very strongly for the children in their care. Be respectful of the teacher’s position and understanding of the fact that there are perhaps 20 to 30 other children in the room, many of whom have their own problems. When you ask for something, find ways to offer help in providing it. Let the teacher see you as a resource, not as someone who is only asking for things.
Share information about education and foster care with the teacher.

Originally published by the Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support. Currently available from the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning <http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/>

Educational Advocacy in North Carolina
Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC) is an educational advocacy organization parents can call for training and one-on-one assistance. Tel: 800/962-6817; www.ecac-parentcenter.org

Copyright 2004 Jordan Institute for Families