What 'Back to School' Means for Foster Youth
Back to school is an exciting time for most kids. But for children in foster care, returning to school comes with its own set of challenges.
The pencils are freshly sharpened. Names of children are lined up on the wall of cubbies. Many children have new backpacks, markers, and clothes for the school year. In a lot of ways, it may seem like a normal first day of school.
However, there may be children in every classroom who come from tough places. There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. So, if you have a child in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, or high school, it is likely that they have classmates and friends who are in foster care. Being aware of vulnerable children in your child’s classroom is the first step towards making a difference. When you and your kids understand the foster care system, you can support children in foster care as this new school year begins.
An Annual Rise in Numbers
Each year, as students return to school, there is an increase of reports of children in potentially unsafe or abusive situations. This is because, as children return to school, they come back into contact with several mandated reporters. As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a mandated reporter is “an individual who holds a professional position (as of social worker, physician, teacher, or counselor) that requires him or her to report to the appropriate state agency cases of child abuse that he or she has reasonable cause to suspect.”
Teachers, school social workers, and coaches are some examples of people at your child’s school who are mandated reporters. Part of their job is to keep an eye on the wellbeing of children. The child might be in their classroom, on their team, or coming into their office. They receive training to recognize, respond, and report suspected abuse or neglect. If a mandated reporter suspects or knows abuse is taking place, they must immediately report it. Most often, a mandated report will contact the local law enforcement or the child abuse reporting hotline.
An Increased Need for Foster Families
As mandated reporters recognize cases of abuse and neglect at the start of the school year, the number of children in foster care rises. Children and youth are removed from unsafe situations and placed in temporary, out-of-home care. They might live with other family members, which is called kinship care. Alternatively, they may live with a foster family or multiple foster families.
As the number of children in foster care rises each fall, so does the need for loving foster families. Not everyone is called to foster, but if you feel the Lord prompting you to foster, do not delay. There are free resources for prospective foster families at WaitNoMore.org. The Wait No More® program from Focus on the Family prepares hearts and homes for kids in foster care.
Back to School Supply Drives for Children in Foster Care
Organizations around the country organize school supply drives for children in foster care each year. Even if you do not feel called to become a foster parent, you can positively impact the life of children in foster care. A simple donation of school supplies can help a child succeed in the upcoming school year. All children need a backpack, pencils, notebooks, and more. You can help fill the gap by donating needed items.
Reach out to your local CASA program to see what supplies are needed and how you can get involved.
What You Need to Know (and Tell Your Kids)
As a parent, you should be prepared to talk with your children about what foster care is and means. Your kids may hear things in their classroom or on the playground that they do not understand. A child in their class might mention that they do not live with their parents. Similarly, one of your child’s friends might talk about their encounters with police or social workers. It is important for your child to respond with compassion to children in foster care. These children are hurting. They are experiencing trauma. Your child’s response could help make a difference.
Equip your children to respond lovingly to their friends and classmates who might be in foster care. Explain that children enter foster care through no fault of their own. Typically, these children have experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment and are unable to continue living safely with their families. While foster care sometimes leads to adoption, many case plans have a goal of reunification with the biological parents.
Show Love to Children in Foster Care This School Year
One of the best ways to help your child understand foster care is to support foster families and children in foster care. Consider cooking a meal or running errands for a foster family, and get your kids involved. Talk about the reasons some children enter foster care, and then emphasize how every child deserves love, respect, and a family. Your example of supporting foster families can have a lasting influence on your own child.
The start of a new school year can be hectic for all types of families, but it is especially challenging for children in foster care. This school year, be intentional about supporting foster families and children in their care.