Kentucky School Advocate
By Madelynn Coldiron
Support, services and understanding.
Those are key elements for schools in helping students who are living in a foster family, with relatives or in a group home.
“They need to be supported to stay in school, to succeed in school. They need a lot of tutoring support. We have kids who need ACT preparation, clear employment preparation,” said Denise Weider, foster care analyst for the state Department for Community Based Services. “Credit recovery is huge; frequently they’re behind, so they need a lot of assistance with that. They also need access to their educational records and course credit information because they move around, they change places and a lot of times that gets lost.”
Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said schools are making “a noble effort” to integrate “wraparound emotional, mental health services” to these children.
“What I would call the noncognitive dimensions of support for kids and for families is so critical and there’s not a better place to provide that than schools,” he said.
Brooks pointed to the role of family resource and youth services centers as being critical to helping foster families. “I believe that FRYSCs can be such a powerful leverage and yet I think FRYSCs have probably only begun to reach their potential,” he said.
Diane Underwood, DCBS adoption services branch manager, recalling her days as a social worker in the field, said it’s important for schools to work closely with the foster parent and social worker “to develop a plan to make that child successful in the school system.”
“When a kid has a behavioral problem, just understanding that that’s based on past trauma; it’s probably not anything that’s going on in the foster home. What I found is that teachers, once they understood, they bent over backward to work with the child,” Underwood said.
Brooks said Kentucky has the highest rate of kinship care – children living with relatives, mostly grandparents – in the nation. This also represents an opportunity for schools or their FRYSCs to help bring these caregivers “up to speed” on how education may have changed since they were in class, he said
Brooks said he is hopeful because many schools are responding to these changing demographics.
“I hope that school board members understand that if we don’t serve foster children in imaginative ways, they’re never going to get to reading, writing and arithmetic. So the way to achieve proficiency and beyond with those kids is to be responsive and unique in imaginative ways, and then we’ll get there,” Brooks said.