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Foster Parents Play an Important Role in Education

Scott Hanauer, Clinical Director at Community Youth Services, gives foster parentsadvice on advocating for their youth’s success in school.

What should foster parents do to advocate for their foster children at their school?

  • When you visit the school for the first time, encourage the social worker to go with you and set up an appointment with the principal and teacher. Find out about your child’s education and school experience so far. If this is a new school for your child, you can set up a meeting during enrollment.
  • If your child has a disability, you need to contact the social worker and school to create an Individualized Education Program or view your child’s current IEP.
  • Be proactive instead of reactive. Contact the school and teacher while your child is succeeding and keep in communication with them often. Be involved while your child is doing well.
  • As a foster parent you can become an “expert” on your foster children and use that information to educate the school and teachers. Teachers are not trained on how to work with foster kids and are not always sure what to do. For example, teachers are trained to provide stimulus that most kids find enriching. Traumatized kids may find decorations and constant stimuli to be overwhelming.

Do foster parents have different rights than biological parents in regards to working with teachers or school administrators?
Yes and no. They do have many of the same rights and responsibilities as biological parents and can play a major part of their child’s education. However, there are instances where the social worker may have to be involved and sign the appropriate paperwork as the “legal guardian” of the foster child.

As a foster parent, how can you help your foster student succeed in school? What kinds of programs are offered to help?
Contact your social worker and local school to ask what local programs and resources can be of assistance.

What are some options for foster parents with children who have behavior problems in school?
Attending trainings that focus on de-escalation techniques can be helpful. Sharing de-escalation ideas with your school and child’s teacher can help your foster student have consistency. Foster students who are misbehaving in school do not always fall under the same rules as other students depending on their IEP. If your child has an IEP, it may state what actions will be taken depending on the behaviors of the child. Foster children will still be held accountable. There are also trainings on intervention techniques that can be used to help your foster student make positive judgments before there is a problem. You can build a behavior management plan with your child’s school.

CYS offers foster parents consultation groups once a week. These groups allow foster parents to bring in concerns and have a group of their peers assist them in possible solutions. Contact your social worker to find out what kind of support groups are offered in your local area.

I do not recommend that foster parents be the executioners of problems that happen at school. This sends the message to youth that the school can’t or won’t deal with them and is harmful to the relationship between foster parents and children.

What are some of the difficulties for foster students?
There is an achievement gap between foster students and their peers who aren’t in foster care. Foster children are encouraged to bridge that gap and “catch up”. By age 13 these children feel overwhelmed by the gap in their education. They start thinking of dropping out because the idea of catching up to their school mates is too stressful. Sixty-one percent of foster youth do not graduate from high school.

They may have low self-esteem. I have heard stories of foster children doing their homework and throwing it away on the way to school. These children do not want to turn it in because if they do something well today, it will raise the bar. They do not want credit for a job well done.

Foster parents should provide time, space and support with homework. They should not force their children to spend an excessive amount of time on remedial work at home. This may have a negative impact both on their relationship and the child’s feelings towards school. Don’t focus on closing the gap. Focus on developing the educational skills for the youth to be successful on his own.

You will have to advocate for your child as a student. I have seen very positive results when foster parents and school staff work collaboratively.

What does a success story look like?
We had a teenage girl who had been moved many times from foster home to foster home with little success. Her education was suffering. Her foster family kept faith in her progress and agreed to have her volunteer to work with young children. She never showed behavior problems in this setting. As she began to see herself being successful she started working as a camp counselor and has decided that graduating high school is her goal so that she can go on to college and become a teacher.

Involving foster children in pro-social activities such as sports, clubs and volunteer work can help them do better in school. It also allows the child to feel needed and important which helps build positive self esteem. This makes their educational experience more positive and motivating.


Education Advocacy Guide for Caregivers
What parents need to know about working with schools from early learning to beyond high school, including enrollment, discipline, Special Education, and more.

Make a Difference in a Child’s Life
A Manual for Helping Children and Youth Get What They Need in School.

Children’s Administration
Recruits foster parents and provides resources and updates on events for youth.

Training and Resources for Parents about Special Education

What every parent needs to know
A series of four handbooks for parents and caregivers with children in elementary and secondary public schools in Washington state.

Casey Family Programs
Provides publications to improve educational success of foster children.

Treehouse (King County only)
Offers tutoring, educational advocacy, money for school activities, summer camp and clothes to foster children.

Improving Educational Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster Care
A narrated PowerPoint presentation about how the foster care system works and what teachers can do to improve success for students in foster care. Discuss the presentation with your peers.




Community Youth Services works with the most vulnerable 10% of foster children and youth, many of whom have been placed in 9 or more homes.

Old Capitol Building, PO Box 47200, 600 Washington St. S.E., Olympia, WA  98504-7200  (360) 725-6000  TTY (360) 664-3631
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