And now, a new school.
If you’ve ever been the new kid in class, you know how daunting and overwhelming this feeling can be. When it comes to supporting your foster child, helping them adjust to a new school is one of the most important roles you have.
Before we talk about how you can help create a positive school experience for a child in care, go back to that memory you had when you were a new kid at school.
Chances are you felt anxious about your unknown environment and the new people you’d meet. You probably wondered who you would sit with at lunch. You prayed there would be at least one friend to play with at recess.
And the thought of group projects made you sick to your stomach wondering if you’d be the last one chosen.
Remembering when you were the new kid in school gives you a glimpse into what a child experiencing the foster care system feels. The only difference here is that EVERYTHING is new in their lives.
This article will cover some of the challenges a child in care experiences as they start a new school. It will also discuss some ways you can support and advocate for them during this difficult time.
If you’re a foster parent in the greater Seattle area, we’d love to connect with you.
We are City Ministries Child Placement Agency. We’re a private foster agency serving as a liaison between foster parents and the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). Email us today and let us connect you with the right resources, guidance, and support for your child in care.
Creating a positive school transition starts with understanding some of the unique challenges they face.
7 Common Struggles Foster Children Experience When Starting a New School
- Lack of Consistency
By the time a child in care arrives at your home, they’ve experienced enough transitions to last a lifetime.
This lack of consistency disrupts their education in a few ways; including:
- Creating gaps in their understanding of concepts, curriculum, and other educational milestones.
- Losing their educational support system.
- Delaying getting the special education services needed.
Constant interruptions can also affect career opportunities later in life.
- Emotional Changes
Your foster child carries emotional baggage from their past trauma, loss, and neglect. Add in a new school and this is a recipe for a child to feel unable to cope.
This emotional adjustment impacts a child’s educational experience in the following areas:
- Lacking trust in their teachers and classmates.
- Fearing they won’t meet expectations.
- Developing a sense of hyper-vigilance, which makes it hard to concentrate on studies.
Stress and anxiety affect a child’s ability to learn and create new relationships.
- Social Isolation
Often a child experiencing the foster care system struggles when connecting with their peers. This could be a result of them feeling different or fearful of rejection.
Social isolation impacts a child’s ability to learn in a few ways; including:
- Decreasing self-confidence and doubting their ability to succeed in school.
- Participating less in classroom discussions and avoiding asking questions.
- Missing out on learning opportunities outside of the classroom. Such as lunchtime conversations, extracurricular activities, and group projects.
Friendships give your foster child emotional support, motivation, and encouragement. These all contribute to a positive learning experience.
- Unfamiliarity with School Systems
Every school has its own set of rules, norms, and expectations. Getting to know what’s expected at each new school is exhausting for a child in care.
A new school interrupts a child’s learning in a few ways; including:
- Feeling confused and disoriented with their new environment. Making it hard to concentrate on learning.
- Failing to get the extra educational support needed.
- Lacking advocacy when it comes to addressing their social, emotional, and learning struggles.
Get involved when your child starts a new school so you also understand the expectations.
- Stigma and Discrimination
A child experiencing the foster care system can feel mistreated or misunderstood by their peers. Misconceptions about their situation can make them feel discriminated against or left out.
Not only does it affect a child’s self-esteem and well-being, but it also impacts their learning in the following ways:
- Avoiding school altogether by skipping classes or not participating in extracurricular events.
- Causing them to question the value of their education, which hinders their goals.
- Responding to others with aggression, defiance, or withdrawal.
Be proactive when it comes to addressing the stigma your child faces. Talk with school administrators and counselors and share specific concerns you have.
- Lack of Advocacy
With all the changes a child in care faces, they may not have had a consistent caregiver working with the school on their behalf. As a result, some of your child’s educational needs might have fallen between the cracks.
Without the right kind of advocacy, a child’s learning is affected in a few ways; including:
- Delaying getting services for learning disabilities or academic support.
- Triggering feelings of abandonment and trauma. Making it challenging for them to focus on learning.
- Experiencing long-term educational setbacks with continuing education and other opportunities.
One of the most important roles you have is being a foster child’s educational advocate. This means getting them the support and resources needed for success.
- Coping With Change
Constant change and uncertainty impact a foster child’s well-being. This makes it difficult for them to adapt to new environments, connect with peers, and trust people.
This compromises their ability to learn in some areas; including:
- Having trouble concentrating in the classroom.
- Withdrawing from classroom activities, discussions, and assignments.
- Regressing in their learning where they don’t perform as well as they should.
Providing your child with emotional support, a consistent schedule, and the right tools is the best way to help them navigate these changes.
As foster parent, there are ways you can ease your foster child’s transition into a new school.
13 Ways You Can Help Your Child in Care Adjust to Their New School
It’s one thing to care for your child’s emotional needs. It’s a whole other thing when it comes to caring for their academic needs. These tips can help mitigate the transition for your child.
- Prepare and Communicate
Talk to your child about the upcoming school change as early as possible.
Let them ask you any questions and do your best to find answers. Open communication reduces your child’s anxiety and stress. And clears up any uncertainties.
2. Visit the School
Talk to the school administrators and plan a day when you both can visit the school before their first day. Walk around the campus. Meet a few of the teachers and staff and connect with the school counselor.
Make sure your child knows where they go to catch their bus or get picked up.
3. Establish a Routine
Adjustment happens quicker when you have a consistent routine. Starting this before they begin school gets them into practice.
This includes regular meal times, a predictable morning and evening routine, and a time for after-school activities. Consistency provides a sense of stability during a stressful transition.
4. Provide Emotional Support
No matter how your foster child feels about starting a new school is okay. Validating their emotions tells them you’re on their side and care about their well-being.
Practice actively listening to your child rather than being quick to offer advice.
5. Connect With Their Teachers
Share relevant and appropriate information with your child’s teacher.
Give a brief overview of their background, interests, and school history. Share any special needs your child has. Chatting with their teacher lets them provide the right kind of resources on the first day.
6. Advocate for Your Child
As mentioned, a child experiencing the foster care system needs a reliable advocate. Especially when it comes to their educational needs.
Attend all parent-teacher conferences and meetings. Stay in communication with the school’s administrative staff and counselors. Follow up with them even if they don’t stay in communication with you.
7. Encourage Peer Relationships
Encourage your foster child to take part in extracurricular activities and social events. This could be joining a sports team or getting involved in a club. If your child is younger, organize playdates or other outings with their classmates.
Finding ways you can get your child involved with their peers increases their self-confidence and esteem.
8. Track Their Academic Progress
Stay on top of your child’s learning and progression.
Make sure they’re turning in assignments on time and notice any gaps in their learning. Find a tutor or other learning resources to help your child stay on track.
9. Provide Homework Support
It’s not surprising if your foster child struggles with staying on top of their homework. Creating healthy study habits takes time.
Your support is much needed. Find a quiet, distraction-free space for them to do their homework. Reach out to their teacher if you feel your child needs extra time to complete projects.
10. Celebrate All Achievements
Acknowledge and celebrate every milestone your child reaches – no matter how big or small.
This can be as simple as going out to ice cream, earning extra privileges, or any other appropriate reward. Celebrating your child’s success boosts their confidence. And increases their motivation to continue learning.
11. Involve Your Child With Decisions
Letting your foster child make decisions about their education gives them a sense of ownership. It also encourages personal responsibility.
Get them involved in picking out school supplies, finding new clothes, or deciding on extracurricular activities to partake in. Empower them and boost their self-confidence by letting them make age-appropriate choices.
12. Encourage Self-Advocacy
The greatest gift you can give a child experiencing the foster care system is to be their own advocate.
Teach your child how to communicate their needs, feelings, and concerns. Both with teachers and peers. This builds your child’s ability to solve problems, communicate respectfully, and develop a sense of self-efficacy.
13. Address Bullying or Other Social Challenges
Create a safe place for your child to talk to you about issues with their peers. Start the conversation by asking how they’re doing with classmates. Share your own experiences if possible.
Validate their feelings. Come up with appropriate strategies or responses to any negative peer interactions.
Get the Support You Need as a Foster Parent
With each new placement, it’s important to remember each child is unique.
Their needs and responses to change vary. Being patient, empathetic, and understanding is the best support you can give a child in care.
Foster parenting brings so much reward, but it’s also filled with plenty of unknowns. Even experienced parents find themselves struggling when caring for a foster child’s complex needs.
If you’re looking for more resources for your placement, email City Ministries Child Placement Agency.
Being an advocate for a child in care doesn’t mean you have all the answers. But it does mean you find the people who do.
Our team is here to provide you with:
- Support at all hours of the day.
- Crisis intervention.
- On-staff Case Manager.
We are a collaborative team advocating for the needs of our foster families and the children in their care. Reach out to us today and let’s get your foster child the best care possible.