There are many perils and pitfalls for teens who age out of the foster care system. Since many foster children do not graduate from high school, they find it difficult to obtain a job that will be able to provide for them financially. Adding to this, most simply do not have the skills, training, or tools necessary in procuring a stable job. Many foster children who age out also turn to drugs and even crime. It can be a bleak future that most foster children face as they age out of a system that may have failed them by not providing the resources, training, and support they sorely need in order to be a success and make a positive contribution to society.
Foster parents can help to prevent many of these problems by attending to some tasks while a child is in their care. As soon as a foster child is ready, begin teaching the child the fundamentals of personal financial responsibility by helping to develop simple money skills. Help the child by opening up and managing a personal bank account, as well as how to balance a budget. Allow a foster child to learn how to cook for himself. Teach the child how to clean and take care of a household and general first aid. Practice filling out job and college applications. Perhaps most importantly, stress the importance of education and encourage the child to graduate from high school.
The development and use of appropriate and healthy social skills is one way foster parents can help their children in foster care. Certainly, these are important skills that the children will need, not only in school and in their foster home, but also in the future when these skills will be relied upon as they grow up and seek a job, a place to live, or assistance in some way. Along with this, positive social skills will also help those foster children to withstand difficult times. While some children prefer higher levels of social interaction with others and others prefer less, all children in care will need their foster parents to help guide them in developing these important skills.
To begin with, it is important for foster parents to remember that they are the role model, and that the foster child will learn the most from simply watching and observing how their foster parents interact with others. Let us not forget that foster children will be silently watching their foster parents in all they say and do, and that foster parents are often the best role model the child may have ever had in his life.
Foster parents also need to set realistic expectations in the area of social skills, remembering that many children in foster care came from homes where they were not taught these basic skills. It may take quite some time, and at times it may seem that the child might never learn these skills. Yet, patience and understanding by the foster parent in this is crucial if the child is to better adjust in the school setting, and later in his life.
Along with this, foster parents should teach their foster student the importance of using good manners at all times, such as saying “please” and “thank you” to others – words that might be foreign to the child’s previous home environment. Along with this, the student may not appreciate the importance of using only positive words towards others. Foster parents may need to teach the child the old and timeless adage, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Demonstrate the importance of having and showing respect for all others:
- Instruct the child how to make and maintain eye contact with others during a conversation, including with teachers and fellow students.
- Help the child learn how to focus on paying attention to conversations, and not letting his mind wander off.
- Teach them the value of knowing how to begin and end appropriate conversations, and the significance of not monopolizing an entire conversation, nor of interrupting when another is talking.
- The importance of personal space, and learning how to not invade it is another skill that may be lacking with the child.
- The child may also need to be taught how to manage and control his emotions, and the simple art of counting to ten when he is feeling anger, frustration, or provoked by others.
- He may also need to be shown the importance of being patient with others, another trait he might not have experienced in his previous home.
- Encourage him to also express his feeling to others, instead of containing them within, and building up inside of him until they release in a negative and harmful fashion.
- Finally, help him to develop skills regarding problem solving, and how to effectively confront challenging situations in a healthy and positive way that confront him.
Foster parent can also help their foster student in the development of these skills by encouraging the child to participate in activities outside the classroom. Many schools have extra-curricular organizations, and activities with various school sports, music, and clubs; together with community sports organizations these experiences will allow him the opportunity to not only participate and develop these skills, but to learn new skills, develop talents, and to exercise.
Volunteering in school activities is another method that foster parents can use when attempting to help their child in school. Volunteering in the child’s school does not need to be extensive, as foster parents can volunteer their time for as long or as little as they like in many schools. Studies have shown that those children who have parents volunteer generally have better grades, score higher on tests, show better social skills, and have improved behavior.
For those foster students who have learning disabilities and challenges, a world of educational resources is available to them. From books and resources in public and school libraries, to countless websites and resources found online, as well as those that can be provided by the teachers and educators at the foster child’s school, there is something available for every student – including songs, games, study tips, products, behavior management tips, and much more. After finding out what the unique learning challenges that their foster child faces, foster parents should seek out and locate the appropriate academic and educational resources for their child in foster care.
Perhaps the biggest impact one can make with those who have aged out of the system is becoming an advocate of change. By contacting community and political leaders, one can bring attention to the needs of these young adults who are facing a series of challenges after leaving the foster care system. Along with this, these advocates of change can also post information in editorial letters, websites, public forums, and so forth. By lobbying for change, new laws can be introduced, and information can be brought forward to the general public.
Without the full support of the foster parent, children in care are likely to struggle, and may even fail in both academics and behavior. For the child to not only to do well, but to succeed in these areas, he will need his foster parents to be included, invested, and involved.
(Adapted with permission from Helping Foster Children in School, 2015, by Dr. John DeGarmo, Jessica Kingsley Publishers)