21, No. 1
Messages to Send to Foster Parents to Support School Success for Children in Foster Care
Excerpted from Ward & Herrick, 2010
Set high expectations. Encourage foster parents to have high expectations for children and attach the same importance to education as they do to children's behavior at home.
Provide a supportive environment. Make sure foster parents are providing children with the necessary school supplies and a quiet space, free from distraction, in which to do school work.
Monitor and provide help with homework. Tell foster parents they should expect children to do their homework. Urge them to check to make sure it is complete and done well. Explain why it is important to make this a priority ahead of doing household chores. Foster parents also must understand that most children need some kind of support to complete their homework. They should provide that support themselves or find alternative resources such as another adult or tutor to help.
Praise school success. Emphasize that foster parents should praise children each time they do well in school. Suggest they post papers for which children have received a good grade on the refrigerator or start a tradition that every time a child makes the honor roll or improves their grades, a special dinner or outing will be planned.
Enable children to participate in extracurriculars. These activities are key factors in educational success. Urge foster parents to go through the papers children bring home from school on a daily basis so opportunities aren't missed. Tell them they can play an important role in encouraging children to participate. Work with the school to ensure clarity about who can sign permission slips and fill out necessary forms, then make sure that happens in a timely fashion. (See box below for more on permission and extracurriculars.) If foster parents cannot provide transportation to events and games, find another way the child can be transported.
Address special school-related costs. For certain courses or for big projects there will be special costs for scientific calculators, art materials, etc. There also may be monthly rental fees for an instrument for the school band or uniforms for the soccer team. Sometimes schools can help with these costs, but it may be hard for children in the child welfare system to speak up and request help. School social workers and school psychologists are good sources of information about resources in the community to help defray these costs for children who can't afford them. Foster parents need to let children know they are willing to help them with this. If foster parents need help covering these costs they should contact you right away. Not having the money to meet these expenses not only affects children's academic performance and ability to participate in beneficial activities, it can stigmatize and embarrass them at school.
Attend parent / teacher conferences. For children not in special education, these are the only formal times when their performance is discussed. A meeting with a child's teacher can be requested whenever there is a concern, but attendance at these regularly scheduled meetings is essential.
Promote early literacy. Encourage foster parents caring for very young children to read to the child daily, beginning in infancy, and talk about what the child is seeing and doing to develop the early language skills so necessary for later success in school. Encourage foster parents to enroll the child in a good quality early care and education program to provide an enriched early learning environment.
Support educational aspirations. For older children, explain that foster parents need to support and encourage aspirations for attending college or other post-secondary schooling. Encourage them to talk to the guidance counselor and to you, as the caseworker, to make sure they are taking the right courses and know about financial supports for further education.
Provide copies of report cards. Request that foster parents provide you with copies of report cards and urge them to inform you about any concerns about the child's experience and performance in school.
Advocate for the child in the IEP process. If the child is in special education or there is a concern over the child's educational progress that might mean there is a need for a referral, help the foster parent understand the special education system and provide tips on how to be a good advocate for the child.