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Navigating the Educational System (Foster)

Attending school provides opportunities for children to learn and develop new relationships. Your foster children may be entering a new school when they come to live with you. This can cause extreme anxiety in any child. Dealing with the trauma of being removed from their family and then adjusting to a new home and a new school can be overwhelming.

As a foster parent, you are responsible for advocating for your foster child’s education. Below are a few tips on navigating the educational system.

Establish a Positive Relationship with the Teacher

If possible, meet with the teacher before the child starts school to help them better accommodate and understand the child. Explain the challenges the child has faced, as well as any behavioral or safety concerns the teacher can help with. You also can offer a few strategies to help the child in the classroom.

‘Family’ Projects

Ask the teacher for a list of school projects ahead of time to see if any are family-sensitive. Classwork asking students to discuss their family backgrounds (such as creating family trees or bringing in baby pictures) can be especially difficult for foster kids. In a light and age-appropriate way, discuss the projects with the child and brainstorm creative ways to complete them. Getting ahead of the projects and working together on them may make them less upsetting. Talk with family members about the school projects during visits to see if they can bring in baby pictures or provide needed information.

Practice Answering Peer Questions

If it is widely known that the child is in foster care, classmates may have questions, which can make the child self-conscious. Think of possible questions and discuss answers that are comfortable for the child. This can give them more confidence and help prevent them from being caught off guard.

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

The U.S. public education system is required to accommodate all children, no matter their needs. Schools are required to provide Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to any child who meets federal requirements. IEPs create goals and strategies to help each child succeed at school. If you believe your foster child needs special services for their education, you can ask the school for an evaluation. The school must respond to all requests within specified timeframes. A team of experts will conduct the evaluation. If they determine that the child has exceptional educational needs, they will develop an IEP. Once the plan is in place, teachers and parents must monitor the child’s performance. IEPs are reviewed annually.

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