The popular NBC TV show “This Is Us” currently has a story line about a married couple with two children of their own opening their home to a foster child. This is a topic rarely portrayed on television, although you might be surprised to find out that almost 12,000 children in New York City are currently served by the foster care system.
I believe that children in foster care are a marginalized group that require more attention.
Like children with an incarcerated parent, children in foster care often suffer very real traumas in silence. The nature of foster care causes them to be moved around from house to house which, in turn, involves them being shuffled from school to school. This puts a huge responsibility on our school system because it must provide students in foster care with intentional emotional and social support for however long they are in each school. All too often they go undetected and overlooked.
According to the New York Post, “a University of Chicago survey found that about a third of foster kids nationally earned neither a high-school diploma nor a GED. A survey of inmates in California prisons found that 13 percent had been in foster care.”
I’m going to be honest: I don’t know whether or not I’ve ever had a student who was in foster care. I never took the time to inquire. It never crossed my mind. I feel horribly even writing that because it is proof of how overlooked this population of students is. As compassionate and socially/emotionally in-tune I believe myself to be, I miss the mark where students in foster care are concerned. Sadly, I am not alone.
For some, depending on the demographic in which you teach and the population you serve, foster care is not an issue; however, for an inner-city, urban teacher teaching in a Title I School where an overwhelming portion of the student body receives free or reduced lunch, students in foster care, like students receiving special education services and those coping with incarceration, are more likely to be in attendance.
What protocols and services are in place specifically to address their very particular needs? None that I knew of or could speak to directly at the onset of writing this blog post. That is unacceptable. All NYC teachers — myself included — need to be more adept to this population and not knowing is simply not an option. I did some research and what I learned are some best practices that benefit all students, not just those coming to us from the foster care system.
For example, create a classroom routine that supports structure. Structure is something the student might not like, but desperately needs in order to do well. Also, be flexible. If homework is not in on time or if the student asks for an extension, as far as possible, be understanding and grant the request. Allow time for the student to do as much of their work in school as possible. We just don’t know what their current living situation is and can’t assume that it is conducive to doing homework. Additionally, respect the student’s privacy. Teachers and staff who do not work closely with the student who is in foster care do not need to know that he/she is in foster care.
Violating a child’s right to confidentiality when they already come to us with trust issues (something most children in foster care struggle with) will make building a positive rapport with them virtually impossible. Lastly, educate yourself about the plight of students in foster care and advocate for them. Having an adult stand up for them might be a foreign concept. Teachers and administrators have a unique opportunity to be a beacon on light in the life of a child for whom such hope is a rarity.
In the show “This Is Us”, things work out well for the child in foster care. She was placed in a loving foster home this time around with a family that cared deeply for her — so much so that they wanted to adopt her and were willing to fight the system to keep her. By the end of the last episode, she was reunited with her birth mother to, no doubt, live “happily ever-after.”
If only things went like that in real-life for most children in foster care…too bad that it isn’t.