Hard to believe, but the beginning of the school year is just around the corner. Along with new clothes and crayons, it also brings a dilemma for many adoptive and foster parents—how much to share with teachers of your foster or adopted child’s past?
As parents, we want to help our kids succeed at school. The question we face as adoptive and foster parents is how much information about our child’s past should we share with his teachers to help him succeed. If we share his full story, will they make assumptions about him or hold him to a lower standard. If we don’t share much are we limiting their ability to help him grow?
There are no “one-size-fits-all” rules to apply and the bottom line is that parents have to listen to their gut, but from a discussion in the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group parents seem to fall into one of the following categories on sharing.
Some foster and adoptive parents choose to share as little of their child’s past with teachers as possible. They believe that some teachers will either
**judge their child (foster or adopted kids have a lot of problems)
**over-react to minor things (she pushed another child because she was abused)
**will expect less of their child because of their history (he’s a fetal alcohol kid so he probably won’t be able to do multiplication tables).
**will share the child’s story with other teacher’s or people in the community
A lot of times they’re treated differently. My foster son was accused of starting a fight because foster kids are aggressive. I usually say the child is going through big changes at home and needs support. If I need to be specific I am, but I don’t go into the child’s life story. ~A.N.
In his first school after being placed with me, EVERYTHING to the teachers and staff was a “red flag” just simply because they knew he was a foster child. So things he would do (that any other child would do) turned into big meetings and psychologists being called in. It was infuriating. Granted he does have special needs and emotional things he is working through. But so much of it was overblown. Like for instance one day he asked the teacher if there were cameras in the classroom. He has previously lived in a group home where there were cameras everywhere in every room to monitor the children, and so he was very aware of cameras in stores and out and about… the school immediately took his question as a massive red flag that he has paranoia and possibly early signs of a much bigger problem. I had to explain… no… he just is curious about cameras. His last few teachers and staff were very different, so more could be shared so they understood enough of his story to help him learn or maintain a feeling of safety. Most of the info shared was not history details but details on what are his triggers… what makes him feel most safe and unsafe… and what to look out for. ~R.L.
Share As Much As Possible
Parents who take the approach of sharing most of the child’s story with teachers work off of the assumption that knowledge is power. The more the school knows, the better able they are to help our kids grow and learn.
I literally have a PowerPoint… it’s called M’s Story. I add to it every year, and every single new teacher, therapist, principal… everyone new in her life gets it before they meet her. It has saved me hours and hours of “telling her story” over and over again. It also gives them a bit of insight on her and some resources are listed, such as “When Love Isn’t Enough”–a great book I ask all adults in her life to read. ~L.
Many adoptive and foster parents take the approach of only sharing what is needed for the teacher to understand the child better, but this information usually doesn’t involve personal details.
Names and family connections in adoption and foster care can be confusing if you don’t know some of the details. With foster care, children may call their foster mother “mom” but refer to her by her first name. With open adoptions, children may talk about having brothers and sisters that the teacher doesn’t know about. They may also refer to someone else as Mamma Jane. It is helpful for the child if the teacher knows who these people are.
Teachers also need to know that the child’s caseworker may occasionally pick her up from school for a weekly visit with his birth mom. If the child’s behavior shifts after a visit with her birth family, it helps the teacher to know in order to show a little more compassion or allow a little more flexibility.
Protecting the child’s story is important for parents who take the approach of sharing only what is necessary, and no more. They tell the teacher about the areas where their child struggles, what are her triggers, what has worked in the past and what has not, but they omit telling the specifics as to why the child struggles.
I share that they *are* adopted (it helps explain some of the educational gaps) and what behaviors might affect them in the school setting, but I try not to go into any of the specifics of history unless it becomes germane. (The year my son, who has a history of ‘creative storytelling’, started sharing (truthfully) about his ‘other’ brothers and sisters and the teacher got very confused, or the year that my son, whose house burning down triggered his final placement into foster care, threatened to burn down the house of a child that was irritating him. Then it becomes important, until then…not so much.~S.J.
I’m struggling with this now. I’m not sure how much to tell his kindergarten teacher. I feel like she needs to at least know where he was intellectually and developmentally when we got him 5 months ago to understand where he’s at now and how hard he worked to get this far even though he’s still way behind his peers. And would that include that we had to potty train him at 5? I feel like that’s important to know if he has an accident. But maybe I’m over thinking it… ~S.H.
Other parents find it helpful to explain that the child is adopted or being fostered so that if possible, the teacher can let the child make two Mother’s Day cards or three plaster handprint plaques—one for each family.
It’s Not My Fault
While this is sometimes hard to admit, I think that many foster and adoptive parents also want the teacher and school to know that the behaviors they see are not the result of their bad parenting… “I didn’t cause this problem.”
As weird as it is… like, it’s icky… but almost everyone we’ve worked with seems to support us more once they realize that her behaviors are not cause by our bad parenting. They’re more open to supporting us when they know we are not her original family. ~E.
I honestly have to say there is no small portion of “I” didn’t do this to these kids’. Teachers, etc., work with me better when they aren’t judging me for “causing” the issues in the first place. ~S.J.
Let Older Kids Decide How Much to Share with Teachers of Their Past
As children age, they will usually have an opinion about how much information they want you to share…and most often it isn’t a lot. It is best to brainstorm with your teen about how to get them the help and understanding that they need in school.
I used to type a small “get to know me” letter and photos. I explained I don’t know much of my son’s history before he came to me. That he came to me because of abuse & neglect. That he attends therapies, doctor’s visits and such. I felt if they had a better understanding of who he is, things might go smoother. This year he started 8th grade and asked that I not say anything. He doesn’t want teachers or kids to know he is adopted. I respect his wishes. ~M.M
My son was adopted at 13. He has guided the conversation. Usually it does not come up until conference time when he introduces his Mom, Dad, and Mom (me, hubby, and bio mom). We don’t explain the relationship. Most probably assume one is my hubby’s ex. ~J.G.
How much do you share with the teacher of your foster child or adopted child’s past?
Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Enjoy
- A Letter to My Adopted Child’s Teacher
- Helping Our Kids Cope with Bullies at School
- What Would You Do: School Asks for Adoption Decree at Registration
Image credit: Steven Saus; Laurens Cui; fivehanks