By Cheryl Baehr: Guardian Ad Litem (Volunteer Advocate) and member of CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County Education Committee
As Court Appointed Special Advocates, we participate in decisions as to what is in the best interest of each child we serve. We also provide information to the court regarding the child’s physical, medical, emotional, and educational needs while they are in the custody of the state. This article will focus on the importance of the educational needs of foster children. We will also review the responsibilities and rights of Advocates to participate in educational advocacy for children in foster care.
You may be asking, “Why is it so important for an Advocate to have such a proactive role in a foster child’s education? Shouldn’t that be up to the caregivers/foster parents?” The caregivers may be kinship grandparents who haven’t been involved in the school system for years. They may be young foster parents who have never dealt with a child in the school system. They may be intimidated by the school system in general. Your support and guidance is valuable. The campus and district, as a whole, may not have experience with CASA or understand what our role is. They might be intimidated and feel we are there as an adversary rather than an Advocate.
How do we begin to set up a positive relationship with our foster child’s school? The CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County Education Committee is here to support you and help with some specific suggestions. First, we want you to know that you have the right and the responsibility as an Advocate to:
- Review your child’s educational data.
- Communicate with the school staff.
- Attend educational meetings when it is in the best interest of your foster child.
- Include your data in each court report.
STEP 1: Face to Face!
The best way to make a positive impression is to meet the office staff at your foster child’s campus. You can call the office for a good time to drop off your credentials with the registrar, who will copy them and keep them on file. These credentials include your “Order Appointing CASA as Guardian Ad Litem for Child” and “What is CASA?” forms. All staff, including the teacher, counselor, and principals will have access to this information. If your foster child is in Special Education, the campus diagnostician should also be given these credentials for the child’s Special Education Folder. You may ask the registrar for a list of the names and email addresses of your foster child’s teachers so you can contact them. At the elementary level, be sure to include specialized areas like Art, Music, and Physical Education.
STEP 2: Contact teachers, Counselor, Special Education Diagnostician (if applicable).
Send an introductory group email just to introduce yourself. State your role and let the staff know your credentials are on file in the registrar’s office for their information. Request to attend important meetings and advise that you will remain in contact with them. You may be surprised with the positive responses you receive! Now the communication is open for you to find upcoming events, schedule meetings, and ask about progress. You will have access to report cards and all other information that is in the student’s file, but you will need to go to the office to view it.
STEP 3: Maintain Contact + Maintain Confidentiality.
Attend events but do not pull student out of class. Assist caregivers/foster parents with understanding school/classroom policy. Attend meetings with them if helpful. Advise teachers only of what is necessary (medications the child takes, family support the child is missing, parent/sibling visits that may affect the child emotionally, and any trauma-induced triggers the child may experience and how they are handled appropriately at home.) Copy the school calendar off the district website so you are aware of important testing schedules and holidays. Email or meet the teacher once a month for updates.
STEP 4: Any Concerns…
If you need to contact the school with specific questions or concerns, it is best to know the most helpful person to whom to reach out. Principals and Assistant Principals are available for campus or district concerns you cannot resolve through other staff. In general, other staff can help with most concerns.
- Teachers: Know the daily schedules, progress, and contacts for other information for the child. They will text or email you, generally within 48 hours.
- Counselors: Know how to access school/community resources for the family, give special support to students who need it, handle academic scheduling, help students determine graduation paths and career options.
- Speech Pathologists: See students who need Speech and Language services and Special Needs students 2-3 times per week, know their needs and progress. Often help assess students for Special Needs services and have information about testing for Speech and Language services.
- Diagnosticians: Tests students for and coordinates Special Education services, reports at annual ARD Meetings, have information about testing for Special Education services.
- Also available for each school district is a Foster Care Liaison whose role is to help facilitate the enrollment and transfer of records for foster children when enrolling in or changing schools. They may also assist with any other concerns that are not being resolved by other district personnel. Your CASA Supervisor can help you contact your district liaison.
Texas schools have many requirements, both federal and local, by which they must abide. This makes working with the school districts consistent in some ways and different in other ways. We cannot change the rules by which they are required to abide and must learn how to successfully navigate the differences we will come across. In order to serve the best interest of our child, our role should be one of advocacy and our attitude must be one of support and cooperation rather than antagonism. In order to put our best foot forward to work with our foster children’s educators, we must show the same level of professionalism, respect, and positivity we expect from them. Our dress, our positive manner, and our concern for confidentiality will show our desire to work as a partner for the child’s best interest.
Would you like to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of volunteer Advocates for children in foster care? Visit our “Become an Advocate” page, or join us for an upcoming “Conversations with CASA” informational meeting. (We host 4 of these events each month; we hope you will find one that best meets your schedule!)