One of the reasons that children in foster care can struggle is because they feel different and alone. They are living in a different home with a different family, a different bedroom, and different rules. If they have to change schools, especially in the middle of the school year, they have to get used to a different teacher, a different classroom, and different classmates all within a couple of days. We have 2 brothers who had been at 5 different schools when they first came to us, and they were in 2nd and 4th grade. Children grow best when they feel most secure, and changing schools that often doesn’t give children much opportunity to feel secure enough in a classroom to learn and grow. One of the biggest things you can do as a teacher is to help them feel at ease as quickly as possible.
1. Normalize foster care in your classroom
Incorporating books and lessons that talk about foster care and adoption is a great way to make the children in your class aware of those situations, so when you get a new child in your class who is in foster care, the other students already have a basic understanding of their situation which can help the child feel more secure in their new environment. Kids today have many different family arrangements, so learning about foster care as another living situation shouldn’t be an issue for most kids.
2. Build relationships
Building relationships is key in all areas of life, but it can be especially helpful when working with a child in foster care. Relationships are often difficult for these kids, as they may not have had many positive relationships with adults prior to coming into care. During the school year, children in foster care will spend just as much time in the classroom as they will in their foster home. Teachers can play a huge part in making sure the kids can have the best possible foster care experience regardless of their circumstances. Building relationships with the foster parents can help you understand the child’s needs much better. The foster parents can hopefully share (limited) information about the child’s past to shed some light on their situation and help you make the right decisions to help the child in school. One great thing that some teachers have done is come over to the foster home for dinner. Our children were so happy and proud to show off their bedrooms and give the teacher a tour of the house like it was their own. Knowing that teachers care about them outside of school as well can help them feel more safe and secure in your classroom.
3. Be patient but consistent
Because of the long list of issues faced by children in foster care at a new school, patience is key. They need time to process all that is happening in their lives and understanding that they aren’t going to jump right in and be ok right away. That being said, they need consistency and normalcy, so do your best to treat them like any other student while ensuring that they follow the rules and get the education that they need. My son’s teacher right now has been great about correcting him privately instead of in front of the whole class to avoid embarrassment. Not forcing them to read aloud and not calling on them randomly can help them to not feel so behind and anxious in class. Obviously each classroom is different, and 4 year olds are much different than middle schoolers, but the same principles apply. Give them time and a safe space to adjust to all that has changed in their lives, but be consistent and diligent to ensure they get the education that they need.
4. Become licensed
Another way to help is to become a licensed foster parent yourself. Becoming a foster parent can help to ease many of the difficult transitions that a child faces. You could potentially foster children in your school so they don’t have to experience a change of schools. You could foster a child who does have to change schools, but will feel more secure knowing that you are in the same building as them all day. Getting licensed for respite care is a great way to learn more about kids in foster care and provide you an opportunity to welcome kids into your home for weekends or school breaks.
5. Support foster parents
You can do a lot to support the foster parents of children in your class. Giving them tools to help the child catch up to where they should be academically or offering to tutor the child outside of class can be helpful to parents who already have a lot on their plate. Give grace and understand that the foster parents often know very little about the child’s past and they shouldn’t be held responsible for difficult and negative behaviors. Simply loving, helping, and encouraging a child can do tremendous things for their confidence and ability to learn and grow.
Please call 864-938-2100 or complete the form below to begin your foster care journey or to ask how we can help you with foster care.