Unfortunately, a large proportion of children in foster care are still likely to experience problems in school. The reasons for this are several; from a difficult home life to movement between different schools during key stages of childhood, foster children absolutely need extra support to help them achieve academic success.
After all, school is not just a place for children to receive an education. It is where children develop valuable social and behavioural skills, gain friends, take part in non-academic activities and events, and perhaps most importantly, have a structure and sense of purpose, which a foster child may lack in other areas of their life.
As a foster carer, there are many things that you can do to help your foster child get the most out of their school life and overcome the obstacles that they can face, simply by being a child in care.
Set up your foster child for success
Having a computer with a word processor and internet access, learning materials such as a dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopaedia, stationery, and a quiet place to work, are all fairly basic but invaluable resources that you can have in your home to help your foster child succeed at school. You should also ensure that your foster child has all of the items they need to work at school too, from notepads and pens to a full uniform that complies with their school’s policy.
Help them with homework
Having support at home is something that many foster children have severely lacked prior to being put into care. Spending time with them, not only to help them with completing homework on time but also reading, drawing, and watching educational television or browsing the internet, is crucial not only because it helps to enrich their school life, but also because it allows you to strengthen your bond with one another.
Keep an open communication between yourself and the school
It is the responsibility of the foster carer to keep the child’s school up to date on any significant changes or issues in the child’s life, so that the school can react or accommodate these appropriately. You should also attend open evenings and other school meetings that give you the opportunity to meet your foster child’s teachers in person, and enable you to stay informed of their progress or hear about any particular concerns that they have.
Allow and encourage them to go on trips and participate in activities
School trips and after-school activities or sports clubs are one of the highlights of school life for children, as they provide additional opportunities for them to bond with their school friends and broaden their individual horizons. Encourage your foster child to take part in these activities and ensure that you have the finances available for when these opportunities arise so that they don’t have to miss out.
Set clear expectations about their achievements and performance
All children need a structure and framework for their school life, but foster children can require this more than most. As a foster carer you should openly communicate with your foster child what you expect of them with regards to their homework completion, uniform, punctuality, attendance, and grades, and ensure that they are meeting your expectations by keeping in contact with their school if necessary.
Talk to your foster child about their long-term goals
Taking care of a foster child can mean you become very focused on the ‘here and now’, but like all other children, foster children need long-term goals. These can be forgotten or not even considered at all when children move between homes and schools, so take the time to chat with them about their future hopes and ambitions for their education, career and life in general.
Help them to make and keep friends
Although it’s easier for young people to keep in touch with their friends thanks to social media and mobile phones, friendships can still get lost along the way when a foster child moves schools. Being in foster care can also mean that a child is unfairly stigmatised, making it even more difficult for them to make friends in the first place. Allowing your child to play or spend time with friends outside of school, whether at home or elsewhere is an important factor in helping them to ‘fit in’ and have a school life that feels as normal and settled as possible.
Can you support a foster child?
If you’d like more help or advice about helping your foster child at school, speak to your supervising social worker, who will be able to give you more advice and perhaps point you to useful training, available to all our foster carers.