BY JOHN DEGARMO, ED.D.

The Challenges Foster
D
uring the past 10 years, there has been a disturbing trend in the United States. The rate of children placed in foster care with the Department of Family and Children Services has risen drastically the past 10 years. Indeed, the number of children now living in foster homes in the U.S. exceeds more than 565,000. This large number has placed many challenges on public schools, as well as the children and their foster parents. Many times, these challenges are not met, due mainly to the lack of training by teachers. Along with the lack of training is the insufficient amount of resources and materials made available to all involved, as well. As a result, foster children often fail in their roles not only in school, but in families, and society in general. When children are placed into foster care, lives are often changed quickly. No longer do they live with parents and family or are surrounded by people they know. Instead, they are, most often quite quickly, placed in a home with strangers and are no longer in touch with those they know or with whom they are familiar. Indeed, those who are in foster care have significant difficulties in school performance and adjustment to developmental tasks of adolescence. These difficulties often lead to additional

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Children Face while in School
problems later on in their lives. For many children placed in foster care, a new school environment is thrust upon them. Foster children are often taken from their homes suddenly and without any notice, and placed in a foster home in a nearby county. As a result, a number of issues arise for the foster child, as he or she is faced with a new home and an unfamiliar environment. To begin with, foster children typically have low attendance rates, as they are moved from one home to another. This includes not only their original foster home, but to other foster homes, as well. During these transitions, children placed in child welfare agencies often miss a great deal of school, as their foster parents and caseworkers attend to duties such as enrolling the child into school, meeting with counselors and psychologists, and giving the child time to adequately adjust to the new living situation. Oftentimes, the child has difficulty registering in a new school, as well as ensuring that all transcript information remains current. In fact, many times, teachers are not aware that a foster child is placed in their classroom. Indeed, school counselors or administrators might not have this information, either. As foster children come with a myriad of emotional issues, many teachers are simply not equipped to handle these issues. Foster children may lash out in the middle of class due to the unfamiliarity and instability of their life at that present time, and many teachers do not have the training or the resources to handle these challenges. Along with this, foster children often have difficulty with trust issues when it comes to adults, as well as building a healthy relationship with an adult figure. Thus, the relationships between teachers and foster children are quite often unhealthy ones. 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. Yet, 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 in behavior and academic performance. As the sudden move from a familiar home to an unfamiliar one can be a traumatic experience, children in foster care often struggle with a wide range of overwhelming emotions as they try to adjust to a new home, new set of rules, and new “parents.” Foster children have the extra burden of facing the distractions of being separated from family and loved ones, along with the difficulty of adjusting to a new home, foster family, and an environment that is foreign to them, and not of their choosing. Along with this lies the concern of the foster child’s mental health, as the new environment and the situation the child has been placed in creates the risk of disturbing and disrupting it while in school. but in their foster home, too, prompting yet another move to another foster home and another school. Schools are indeed a difficult environment for foster children, and far too many times, these foster children are unable to meet the demands and challenges that are placed upon them while enrolled in a school. It is only with the combined help of the foster parents, caseworker and trained teachers that a foster child has a chance at success. By working together, all members of these three groups will be better equipped to assist foster teens as they grow older and contribute to the community and society in a positive way as a means of greater social change. ❁

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BY JOHN DEGARMO, ED.D.

Foster children often have a difficult time with exhibiting proper school behavior during the school day. For many of the children, school is a constant reminder that they are, indeed, foster children without a true home. The continuous reminder that their peers are living with biological family members while they are not is a difficult reality for them, and can be manifested in several ways. Some foster children simply withdraw and become anti-social, in an attempt to escape their current environment and world they have been thrust into. For many foster children, violent behavior becomes the norm, as they not only act out in a negative and disruptive fashion in the school,

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John DeGarmo, Ed.D., has been a foster parent for 10 years, now, and he and his wife have had more than 25 children come through their home. DeGarmo wrote his dissertation on fostering, entitled, “Responding to the Needs of Foster Children in Rural Schools.” DeGarmo is completing his book, “Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story,” that will be published in 2012. In his spare time, DeGarmo enjoys gardening, traveling the world, and performing in front of others. He can be contacted at ilikeboom@hotmail.com.
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