August usually means two things to a child – summer is almost over and the first day of school is right around the corner.
For the children we serve at Child Advocates, school can be a huge challenge. Consistency isn’t always a given. Often our kids are starting new schools and possibly moving to new homes, which can be stressful and overwhelming. When it comes to school, kids in the child welfare system need extra help to make sure teachers, caregivers, counselors, etc. have all the tools and resources they need to accommodate students and their individual academic needs.
Here are some helpful tips from Child Advocates Director of Educational Liaison Program, Donna Walker, to help make sure our kids’ back-to-school season runs more smoothly:
1. Be able to Understand and Navigate School Complexities
Understanding the school structure is crucial. It is very important to work together with the school, student, and family in order to produce positive educational outcomes. Understand what is needed to access information at the school and about educational procedures. This will come from engagement with the school staff, get to know them, communicate with them often and be available to them. Understanding the school culture and expectations as well as resources and supports in the school community will help better navigate the school system.
2. Get to Know about the School
Educators want to do the right thing. It is in their best interest for students to excel. Make sure you understand the laws, policies, and procedures of the school. Some basic topics include Universal curriculum and supports for all children, Interventions, Functional Behavioral Assessments, Special Education and an Individual Educational Plan (IEP). Each school’s policies and procedures can be different and it is important to know the specifics of the school the child is attending.
3. Get to Know the Child
This information can and should come from a variety of sources such as family, teachers, counselors, case managers and anyone who has a direct connection to the child’s academic performance. It is important to know the strengths and challenges of the child, educational history, current educational needs, current level of performance, how the child learns best, and with whom the child has a positive relationship.
4. How you can Help the Child
Developing trust with the child, family, and school is key. Introduce yourself respectfully and explain your role as their partner. Learn with whom to communicate and respect the authority of the administration and staff. Gather and receive information, listen and learn, and make reasonable and appropriate recommendations as a partner.
One very important factor that must be addressed is that all of the children we serve are victims of trauma. We must consider all social and emotional learning and health in response to the child’s experience of trauma. *CASEL defines social and emotional learning as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” These skills and knowledge are greatly impacted by trauma. We must concentrate on building systems of support for the child that will mediate the development of these social and emotional attributes that will enable the child to progress academically, socially, and emotionally in the school context. We must first understand the effect trauma has on the child so we can effectively communicate the child’s individual needs with the school staff and administration.
Treating each child uniquely and consistently involving all parties in relation to the child enables us to develop positive partnerships, trust and the ability to enhance the educational outcomes of the children we serve. We must support the child and each other collectively. This provides a much-needed consistency for the child and an opportunity to excel in their educational environment.
Child Advocates is currently serving over 700 students and their individual educational needs.
To learn more about Child Advocates and how we serve children, visit: www.childadvocates.net
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer educational advocate please contact Donna Walker: firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-308-0052.
*CASEL definition of social and emotional learning- https://casel.org/