Quicker than you imagine, you will be fully immersed in back-to-school preparations with your adopted, foster, or kinship kids. We know! Mentioning the “s-c-h-o-o-l” word can make you cringe this early in the summer. But while your kids are waging water fights in the yard and roasting marshmallows for s’mores, you can consider what you must do to prepare them well for the academic year. We’ve got a back-to-school checklist to help you think through the issues your adopted, foster, or kinship kids might encounter this year.

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” ~ notoriously successful student, Alexander Graham Bell

There are Added Layers to Consider

In most respects, the beginning of a new school year for adopted, foster, or kinship kids is no different than for biological kids. You buy the same school supplies and search for sneakers that 1) fit their feet and 2) fit the cool factor. You will take the obligatory “First Day of School” pictures and send your precious kiddos off with a kiss and a prayer. However, raising adopted, foster, or kinship kids can add a few layers of complication to your child’s school experience.

Here’s what we mean:

  • Maybe your family is transracial, multi-generational, mixed race, or your child’s race/ethnicity is different than yours. You worry about how they will handle questions about your “conspicuous” family.
  • Your children might have a large, extended birth family that is actively involved in your family’s life. You wonder if their teachers need a cheat sheet card to know who is who.
  • Your adopted, foster, or kinship child carries significant emotional scars and behaviors from their challenging life experiences before joining your family. How do you figure out what – if anything – to share with the school?
  • Johnny has learning differences and disabilities caused by prenatal alcohol or drug exposure. You are concerned about his ability to succeed in school, academically and socially.
  • You may be concerned that Suzy is slightly fuzzy about your family’s definitions of privacy and secrecy. She tends to overshare information that she may later regret telling her peers.

These concerns, and many others like them, can set you up for fear and uncertainty about the school year. They can also impact your partnership with the teachers. You aren’t alone – many adoptive, foster, and kinship families are concerned all summer long about the coming school year!

  • Will the school think I’m a hover mother?
  • What if he doesn’t make any friends in the new school?
  • Is she ready for the transition from elementary to middle school?
  • Do the teachers know enough about trauma and its impacts on learning?

However, it will help if you find ways to manage your concerns. You can start by educating yourself about your child’s needs. It might help to join a support group for parents of kids with learning challenges. You can support your child’s routines at school by establishing academic practice over summer break. There are fun apps to help them stay sharp, and they might not even notice how “school-y” they are!

You don’t want to put the responsibility for a great start to the school year solely on your child’s shoulders. Nor do you want to overshare with their teachers right out of the gate. Instead, it’s wise to prepare now for some of the common potential problems that come with your child’s “additional layers.” As the school year gets rolling, you will get a better handle on what else the teachers need from you.

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A Quick Checklist to Prepare for Back-to-School

Here is a practical list you can work through to prepare your adopted, foster, or kinship kids and their teachers for a great start to the school year.

  • If your child is likely to stand out from their peers at school (because of their race, ethnicity, or other conspicuous differences, etc.), try to prepare them to answer questions from other children. Talk with them in age-appropriate ways about why your family doesn’t “match.”Be clear about why they are new to the school district this year. Role-playing and “canned responses” are also great tools to prepare them.
  • Share the information about your child’s history or current circumstances that will help teachers and administrators to appropriately meet the child’s needs in the classroom. It is usually optional to share intensely personal details with the school.
  • When your child is transferring to a new building or school district upon joining your family, consider reading through the transcripts and records from their previous school. With electronic transferring of records, you might have to ask for hard copies. Look for learning challenges documented in those files. What learning services did the child receive at their other school? Speak with the caseworker (if applicable) about how to start those services anew. Does the child need to be evaluated, re-evaluated for, or released from educational services?
  • If you are concerned about specific behaviors you’ve observed in your child, consider talking with the school counselor and the teacher. Try to start these conversations early in the school year. Brainstorm ways to help your child. Ask for local resources that might support your family, and request consistent, open lines of communication between home and school.
  • If your child freely shares details about their story (for example, “I’m in foster care because Mom is in prison.”), consider whether they are oversharing details they may regret later. Talk about the difference between privacy and secrecy during these remaining weeks of summer break with your child. Again, role-playing and practicing scripts together can be helpful in this situation.
  • Once you’ve established contact with the new teacher, ask about upcoming school assignments that might be problematic for the child. This might be because you don’t have access to the information. Or the content may be painful for your child, and they are not ready to process the memories attached to that information. Some examples of these projects include creating a family tree, bringing baby pictures, or sharing firsts (first steps, first word, etc.).
  • For foster and kinship families, consider what legal documents you need to enroll the child in your local school. In a related vein, teach your kids what emergency contacts you will list as safe for the school and the child to contact. What contact information for birth parents is (or is not) appropriate to share with the school? When raising children outside the umbrella of formal social services or child welfare (as in a kinship care situation), these questions might not apply to you. However, it’s still valuable to consider the protections and plans you should put in place for communication between home and school.

Parenting the Challenging Child While Maintaining Attachment

Take it One Step at a Time.

These checklist items might feel overwhelming, especially if you are new to fostering or kinship care or putting a child in school for the first time. Please don’t be anxious about it! Instead, talk with other adoptive and foster parents or kinship caregivers in your community. And contact your local school staff as early as possible. Even if your child has been in this building or school district for a while, carefully walking through these steps can prepare you and your child for the best possible start to the coming school year.

Next week, we will dive more deeply into the issues of what to share (or not) when working with your child’s educational professionals. We hope you’ll come back for that!

Image Credits: Ivan Samkov; Alena Darmel; Mikhail Nilov