A mother consoles her young daughter when she gets discouraged trying to do her homework.

For eight hours a day or more, and for five days a week for much of a calendar year, a foster child will spend his time in school.  Indeed, children in foster care will most likely spend more of their time each day with teachers than they will with their foster parents.  Many children foster children would rather be any place else other than in school; as it is a constant reminder that they are just that, a foster child.  Yet, teachers and school employees have the opportunity to help foster children in a unique and positive manner.    Here are the top 10 things every teacher should understand about children in foster care.

1. School is the Last Place the Child Wants to Attend

Many teachers expect good grades and school performance to be a priority in the lives of the majority of their students.  Yet, for children in foster care, school is not a priority, and is not a focus.  Instead, the main focus and priority for many of student who are placed into foster homes is that of survival; survival from moving from home to home, survival from the abuse and neglect they may have faced in their lives, survival from living apart from their other family members, and survival from moving from school to school.

2. There will be Issues of Trust

Foster children often have difficulty with trust issues when it comes to adults, as well as building a healthy relationship with and adult figure. Thus, the relationships between teachers and foster children are quite often unhealthy ones.  Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the foster child may have experienced harsh words, yelling, and abuse from the hands of adults. 

3. Learn The Child’s Background

 Teachers, as well as school counselors, do not often have the background information they might need when having a foster child under their supervision. In most cases, the background information is not permitted to be released due to issues of confidentiality through legal acts of protection.  However, with information comes understanding . Many times, this information is often necessary for a teacher in order to fully understand the student’s needs and abilities. The more information a teacher may have on the child, the better equipped the teacher becomes when trying to aid the child’s in his behavior and academic performance.    

4. Be Understanding of their Situation

If a foster child should lash out in anger or frustration towards the teacher or towards other students, due to the myriad of emotions the child is struggling to deal with, teachers need to be equipped to handle the child’s emotional turmoil.  You need to be prepared for the emotional challenges the child may face in your classroom, and be mindful of their situation and the challenges they face. Background information and insight can be most helpful as teachers consider how to best handle the situation.

5. Practice Academic Understanding

As foster children are often behind academically, as well as struggle with the fact that they are coming from outside school districts with different expectations, teachers need to be conscious of this fact.  There are sure to be gaps in learning and disabilities due to the instability and multiple displacments.  In addition, foster children struggle with many personal and emotional issues while in the foster home, and homework is often not the main objective while in the home each evening. Instead, the emotional issues your student faces may take center stage on any  evening.  Teachers need to assign homework with this in mind, being sensitive to their issues. 

6.  Be Flexible with Homework and Due Dates

Teachers can be of tremendous help to both foster children and foster parents by allowing flexibility on deadlines and due dates for homework, as well as test taking, particularly when assigning home work or test dates around visitations with birth parents and biological family members.  Often, children in care are filled with various anxieties and emotions on  the day of a visitation, as well as the following day, as they try to process the swirling emotions that come with visiting with someone who may have neglected or abused them, or a family member in jail. 

7.Understand there will be Social Issues

Children in foster care often have a difficult time with social skills due to the personal traumas they may have faced before coming into care.  As a result, these students may find it difficult to interact with their peers, and instead chose not become socially involved for fear of receiving additional trauma.  Outbursts of anger can be common in these children towards both their teachers and their peers.  Teachers can assist these troubled students in helping them develop appropriate and adequate social skills, and at the same time, encourage the student to become more involved in the school with clubs and organizations, music, sports, and other extra-curricular activities.

8.   Try to Develop a Positive Rapport with the Child

Positive and strong personal rapport between teachers and students at risk are not only important for a student’s academic success, but also for student’s behavior success, as well. Positive relationships with teachers give foster care students a sense of belonging and connectedness to a school, especially for those students who are moving from school to school due to placements into new foster homes.  

9. You are a Role Model

Sadly, many children in care have never had a positive adult role model in their life.  Along with this, they have never had encouragement from a caring adult, either.  The child is going to spend more time with his teachers than any other adult while in foster care.  Therefore, teachers should be as encouraging as possible to students in foster care.  Even the smallest step forward and any minor advances in progress by the student should be noted and celebrated by the teacher, both in regard to academics and behavior.  After all, children placed in foster care may never have had an encouraging word said towards them before, and may suffer from a sense of low self esteem, or little self worth. Praise for an accomplishment, no matter how small, by a teacher can be most effective in aiding in the development and event the healing of the student.

10. Become an Advocate

Advocacy is another way teachers can help foster students.  Indeed, teachers and other school personnel need to remember that many children in foster care have never had an adult looking after them, throughout much of their lives.  A teacher, school counselor, administrator, or other school employee might just be the first adult fighting for the child to have a better life, championing for the child’s needs.  School employees have the distinct opportunity of changing a foster child’s life like no other adult in a positive fashion in this manner.

More than anyone else, teachers are aware of how important education and a high school degree are for all children.  Without a doubt, teachers can make a tremendous impact in the life of a child in foster care.  Teachers are often times in a position to be a positive role model and influence for these students in care.  In addition, teachers can also help provide foster parents and caseworkers with the help they need when meeting a foster child’s educational needs, as well.   With some planning, understanding, and guidance, teachers can make the difference between failure and success for a child in foster care.