- October 2004
- Vol. 5, No. 8
Promoting a Positive Educational Experience for Children in Foster Care
Recognizing the impact of education on the lives and futures of children in foster care, the Vera Institute of Justice and the New York City Administration for Children's Services conducted a pilot project, Safe Start, to experiment with ways to help adults improve the school experience of children in foster care. Safe Start innovations were designed to address some of the typical educational difficulties of children in foster care, including poor attendance, poor academic performance, and greater incidence of behavior problems.
During the project's 3 years, Safe Start staff identified a number of barriers to optimal educational experiences for children in foster care:
- Multiple placements that result in multiple schools
- Medical and court appointments that cause children to miss school
- Lack of emphasis on education by the child welfare and judicial systems
- Low expectations for educational achievement on the part of caseworkers, school personnel, and foster parents
- Lack of one adult who serves as a child's educational advocate
- Aftereffects of abuse or neglect
- Lack of coordination between the child welfare and educational systems
- School policies that make it difficult to enroll children
In response, Safe Start found that increasing adult involvement in the education of children in foster care would help children overcome many of these obstacles. Two specific and relatively inexpensive recommendations were made:
- Assign primary responsibility for monitoring a child's education to one adult. In many cases there is a great deal of confusion over who is responsible for enrolling the child, signing permission slips, meeting with the teacher, and more. Foster parents are sometimes uncomfortable with the school system, or they believe that they do not have the right to act as a legal guardian for the child. In some cases, birth parents are still capable of taking responsibility. The key is for the caseworker to designate an adult and for the court to ensure that such a person is appointed.
- Encourage foster parents to interact with the school and teachers. Foster parents can receive training on attending parent-teacher conferences and finding out important information about the children for whom they provide foster care.
As a result of the pilot project, the Vera Institute published a three-part packet to cover the themes of "Meeting the Challenges," "Adult Involvement," and "Enrollment and Transfers." Included in the packet are sample letters and forms to help in enrollment and release of records, as well as tip sheets for foster parents (in English and Spanish) regarding questions to ask at a parent-teacher conference and ways to help with homework.
The packet, Foster Children and Education: How You Can Create a Positive Education Experience for the Foster Child, can be downloaded from the Vera website at www.vera.org/publications/publications_5.asp?publication_id=241 (Editor's note: Link no longer active).
Read more about the issue of education for children in foster care in "Overcoming Educational Barriers for Children in Foster Care" in the May 2004 issue of Children's Bureau Express.