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Maneuvering the public education system for your foster children

Children who come into your care as foster children always come to you with some sort of trauma. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the need of a safe haven. While they come with many needs on various levels, one of the areas they need the most help with is their education. Many of the children who have come into our care have been behind in academics. Some have been out of school due to homelessness. Some just didn’t go to school because it was not a family priority. Others have come to us with learning disabilities or other impairments that have impeded their academic success and have often gone unnoticed or unattended.

I would love to say that your child’s new school will quickly notice these needs and act quickly, providing every additional support the child needs to level the playing field. But unfortunately, we have discovered that this is often not the case in public education. When this happens, you will need to step in and advocate for your child’s needs.

One of the first things I do when a child is placed in our home is research what milestones and academic achievements they should be able to perform at that grade level. A great place to start with this is on the TEA website to look at the expectations for your child’s grade level.

This can be a little daunting. If you don’t know the child well and they are not excited about their education, then you can simply start by having them read to you. Reading is the gateway to all subjects in school. If they can’t read well or comprehend what they read well, they are going to struggle when it comes to math (performing word problems), in science (in reading about scientific concepts), in social studies (learning about historical events and figures) as well as in writing (spelling and basic writing format). You can refer to many websites to see what reading level they are at and where they should be as a good starting point. Two of the websites I use often are the AR website and the reading level correlation website.

Another tip that may help is sharing a little bit about the child to their educators. Please use discretion on how much of their story you share, but it’s important to help build the rapport of our children with their educators. It helps educators to have sympathy and patience when they know why our children face the challenges they do. I have seen some educators do a complete 180 in working with our children after they have a picture of all our children have endured.

 The school system will be slow due to their policies and procedures to address more significant needs your child may need to provide them with success. Know that this is not a fault of the educators but of the system; however, also know that it is your job to push the process along. Do not be afraid to be the squeaky wheel constantly reminding them that your child’s needs must be addressed in a timely manner.

Tutoring is also available – if you ask and if you stay on top of the issue. There are programs to assist your child if you ask for them (such as a 504 and a Student Improvement Plan). You can at any point in time request in writing for further testing if you feel there is a learning disability playing a part behind the scenes or maybe even another type of disability (such as an emotional disturbance). Talk to your child’s teachers, the administrators and the school counselor. Voice your concerns and ask for a plan as to how the school is going to address your concerns.

Above all else, be willing to put in the time and effort on the home front to assist your child in closing the academic gaps they most likely came to you with. If you don’t feel equipped to do so, reach out to your child’s attorney ad litem or your Buckner case manager and they will gladly put you in contact with those who can help your child. One of the biggest indicators of a child’s success in life is that of their education. What better way to assist them in having the best future possible than to work with them on their education and foster a love of learning. Remember, you are not just their foster parent – you are their advocate and their main source of support.  

Written by Candace Barefoot, a foster parent through Buckner International. If you would like to better understand the ins and outs of the education system or if you feel like you could use some assistance in helping your child with his or her specific situation, please feel free to contact Candace at candacebarefoot@gmail.com.

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