There are age-specific challenges all students face in school. For a foster child or teen entering a new school, these challenges may be magnified. As a foster parent, there are things you can do to help your foster child cope with stress as they enter a new school.
For elementary-age kids
Drive by the school with them, and if possible, arrange for them to have a tour of the school building and see their classroom. Make sure they have the name of their teacher. Go through the routine of the school day with them: when will school start and end and how will they get to and from school.
Ease any worries related to hunger. Make sure they know how their lunch will be provided. If they will be getting lunch at school, let them know how it will be paid for. If they’ll bring their lunch, involve them in picking out their lunch bag and let them help with preparation.
For middle-school children
Social pressures are intense in middle school and your middle-schooler is as likely to be worried as much about what other kids will think of her as she is about how she’ll do in her classes. Talk with her about what she hopes school will be like for her, what she is looking forward to and what she is nervous about. Help her identify an activity or club she can join in order to make friends. Provide her with the information she’ll need to get involved in her chosen activity. If she is interested in playing a sport, be proactive in helping her get needed equipment.
Make sure she knows about her school’s dress code and help her pick clothes that she likes and that meet the dress code. Expect some struggles around clothing and appearance, and remember, that this is entirely normal for someone her age.
For high school students
Be prepared to advocate for your foster teen to be placed in classes suited to his needs. For students who have changed schools frequently, class placement can be complicated. Understand that finding the right academic fit for your foster son may take a while and be prepared to work with him and his school to ensure that he is assigned to the right classes.
Get an idea from the school of typical homework expectations and share them with your foster child. Determine with him how he can best keep up with homework; make a plan with him about when and where he will do his school work. Ask for his ideas about what support he’ll need from you.
Understand that for high schoolers, social life is an extremely important part of school. Provide your foster child opportunities to connect with other teens in a positive way. Help him join a school activity, a sports team or a church youth group.
Being aware of the challenges your foster children will face in school will help prepare you for those times when they need your extra support. It may also remind you that some of the struggles they are experiencing are due, at least in part to the fact, that the journey from childhood to young adulthood is sometimes a wild and crazy ride in all families.