By Dr. Debbie Alexander, Executive Director of the Central Savannah River Area Regional Educational Services Agency (RESA)
Children in foster care often face considerable challenges that make achieving success in school difficult. As a result, they may fall behind their peers, missing out on the chance to establish a solid educational foundation in subjects like reading, writing, and basic math. This lack of foundational skills can hinder their future learning and overall achievements.
As educators, we have an obligation to address this issue. This summer break can serve as an opportune time for everyone across the education system – including teachers, principals, district administrators, and legislators – to identify necessary changes to support the success of foster care students.
With a wealth of experience spanning over three decades in the Richmond County School System, I have served in various roles, including teacher, assistant principal, principal across different grade levels, and associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. I’ve also worked for the Georgia Department of Education and currently serve on the Amerigroup Georgia Families 360 Steering Committee. Through these diverse experiences, I’ve acquired invaluable insights into the challenges that students in foster care face and gained a profound understanding of how we can enhance their support system.
The instability experienced by children in foster care can often impede their progress. While we cannot entirely stabilize their lives through the school system, there are measures we can take to assist them. For instance, when a child changes homes, ensuring that they remain in the same school can make a difference. If this is not feasible, we should make every effort to transfer their personal and educational records to their new school, enabling teachers and administrators to prepare, welcome, and support them. Furthermore, even if we cannot keep students connected to their previous schools, we should establish connections with their new teachers, counselors, and administrators.
To facilitate this process, a care coordinator can be invaluable. Through Amerigroup, each child in foster care has access to a care coordinator who can assess their needs and act as a liaison with schools to provide necessary social, educational, and medical resources. Improving the flow of information can help each child feel welcomed, regardless of their background.
Another significant factor holding foster care children back is the trauma they have experienced. Research estimates that around 90% of children in foster care have encountered traumatic events. While we cannot eliminate their pain or trauma as teachers and administrators, we can learn how to navigate these challenges and provide them with the best opportunities for success.
To address this, all teachers and administrators must be trained in trauma-informed education and care. The recent passage of House Bill 855 by the Georgia House of Representatives is commendable, as it requires local school systems to assess the impact of trauma on the educational performance of foster care students. However, concrete next steps must be taken, like ensuring an adequate number of individuals are trained in every school and across all districts. Legislators involved in these matters should engage in open dialogue with teachers and administrators responsible for implementing these initiatives. Amerigroup has taken steps to fill this gap by providing training sessions for school social workers and educators, offering guidance on effective implementation.
To learn more about trauma-informed instructional practices course or professional learning offerings, contact your local RESA Regional Educational Service Agency or GLRS Georgia Learning Resources, or visit the US Department of Education for joint guidance with the U.S. Department of Health for how best to support children in foster care.
I have witnessed firsthand how teachers can be the strongest advocates for their students. In the case of foster children, I have seen teachers go above and beyond to secure the services, resources, or specialized attention they need. At the end of the day, teachers simply want to see their students succeed. Although it may require additional communication and training when it comes to foster children, educators share the same responsibility for helping them thrive as they do for any other student in their classrooms.