Foster families are an “invisible population.” If one hundred children were on a school playground, you couldn’t—or shouldn’t—be able to tell which ones were foster youth. If you were at a mall, you couldn’t pick out the foster families that pass you by.
According to the National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, education has the potential to be a positive counterweight to abuse, neglect, separation, impermanence, and instability for the 400,000+ children and youth served in foster care each year in the United States.
However, because of privacy considerations, essentially the only way to know if a specific child or caregiver is in the foster care system is to create a welcoming environment that encourages them to self-identify.
Local PTAs have the potential to help foster families at the grassroots level while increasing their PTA’s value and relevance within their community.
The engagement level specific to supporting foster families can be as little or as much as an individual PTA chooses; don’t be afraid to do just a few things in this arena, for fear that it’s not “enough.” It all helps.
For example, local PTAs could …
- Proactively, deliberately welcome foster parents into the PTA. Once the foster parents self-identify they no longer are a part of the “invisible population.” Welcoming foster families into local PTAs can be a part of an overall effort to become more diverse and engage underserved families.
- Establish a child welfare committee with one of its goals being the support specifically of foster families. The committee could be called the diversity committee with a sub-goal to help foster parents.
- Establish partnerships with the local foster care agency and ask how the PTA could share its parent involvement expertise to support the agency’s foster parents.
- Source and fund the delivery of a teacher training to be presented during a professional development day. Teachers need to understand the challenges that foster youth face and potential impact on classroom management and test scores. This same training could be adjusted to be presented to foster parents.
- Engage local legislators or foster care agencies to suggest that parent involvement training be included as one of the trainings offered to foster parents. All foster parents are required to attend annual training, so why not focus on parent involvement as one of the trainings.
- Ask a known foster parent to write articles about relevant foster care concerns and resources for the local PTA newsletter.
- Individuals with a passion for creating a foster parent PTA in their state can check with their state PTA to determine chartering requirements. Check out Maryland’s Foster Parent PTA as a potential example.
In addition to increasing the number of paid local PTA memberships and increasing PTA awareness and relevance within the community, increasing the support for teachers will be an important outcome for engaging and welcoming foster families.
If foster families become more involved and connected to the local school and the PTA, the critical home/school connection will be strengthened. Foster youth sometimes exhibit challenging behaviors; however, when foster parents work effectively with the teachers, the disruptive behaviors become more manageable.
Foster families may be an “invisible population,” but the gains that can come from local PTAs choosing to support this population can have very visible and positive results.
Sam Macer is the founder of the first foster parent PTA.