Training Foster Parents to Help Children with Special Education Needs
With funding from the Knowledge Works Foundation, they established the Education Advocacy Center (EAC), designed to provide training and advocacy support for foster agencies and parents, to improve the educational outcomes of foster care students. One strategy that has been particularly effective comes out of a legislative initiative, spearheaded by EAC director Bryan Brown, which resulted in an Ohio mandate requiring all therapeutic foster parents to take a six hour course to become certified as “surrogate parents.” The role of “surrogate parent” was established in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure that children identified or suspected of having disabilities which require special education services would have an advocate looking out for their interests when a natural custodial parent is not available. To help implement the legislation, the EAC teamed up with the Southwest Ohio branch of a state educational service agency, the Special Education Regional Resource Center (SERRC), to begin training foster parents to become “Surrogate Parents.”
The critical need for foster children to have someone monitoring and advocating for their education needs was made apparent in a study that Beech Acres designed and implemented in the fall of 2000 to help direct the services of the new EAC. Two hundred and eighty families participated, and data was collected on 543 foster children. This resulted in the following:
- Almost half (43%) of children in the survey were not performing at grade level. Training Foster Parents to Help Children
with Special Education Needs Beech Acres, a Cincinnati based non-profit whose mission is to strengthen families for
children, has undertaken some exciting initiatives to address the educational needs of children in substitute care.
- 38% of foster children were receiving special education services, and a significant number of others were suspected of needing services.
- 80% of the children in the survey had lived in a different school district before coming to their current foster home (meaning issues around enrollment and transitioning)
- 40% of foster parents were unaware of the availability of parent surrogates
- 63% of children were receiving some kind of mental health service.
- Foster children who were receiving mental health services experienced more difficulty enrolling and significantly greater
numbers of suspensions and expulsions than their peers with mental health
These findings were aligned with other national data on the educational plight of children in foster care. It is common for foster children to be academically delayed one, two, or more grade levels. In order to have any chance at academic success, these children generally may require a combination of any number of services, including special testing by a school psychologist, specialized language and/or reading services, tutoring or mentoring services, and possibly an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) properly implemented to ensure academic and behavioral progress.
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to access these services for deserving children without a knowledgeable and effective advocate. When EAC was founded, very few of the districts in Ohio were complying with IDEA requirement that the superintendent appoint a surrogate parent for a foster child with special education needs. After the state was cited by the U.S. Department of Education for failing to implement this provision of IDEA, Ohio made implementation of this requirement a high priority. While there are complicating factors around enforcement of this provision, having a cadre of trained foster parents, private agency staff, and kinship caregivers available for appointment as surrogate parent is crucial for a child’s success.
The EAC and the SERRC designed a curriculum to train potential surrogate parents, which was approved by the Ohio Department of Exceptional Children. The six hour course includes information and discussion on the following topics:
- The federal and state laws that govern the needs of children with learning and/or behavior problems, and when these might apply.
- The sequence of steps that are appropriate and necessary for obtaining assistance for a student with academic or behavior problems.
- Key concepts such as intervention based assessment, Multi-Factored Evaluation (MFE), least restrictive environment, and IEP development.
- Introduction to a team-based approach to developing interventions for children with school problems, as well as practice in collaborative problem solving.
- Asking good questions.
- The nature and scope of possible interventions to support a child with behavior problems– considering the instructional
environment, the curriculum, and the student’s own motivation and skills
- The roles and responsibilities of a surrogate parent.
- An overview of special education categories, services, and the criteria to obtain them.
- Concepts of positive, strength-based approaches to discipline, functional behavior assessment, and behavior intervention support plans.
- Review of procedural safeguards for children with disabilities when suspensions and expulsions are an issue. (We encourage trainees to seek support in beginning stages of advocacy when these come up.)
Since the EAC and SERRC began co-leading these trainings in 2001, about 870 foster parents have been trained in Southwest Ohio. The feedback from participants has been very positive. After sharing many examples of lives and jobs made miserable by phone calls from principals during the day, suspensions and expulsions to contend with, enrollment problems, etc., people leave feeling empowered with new knowledge andunderstanding, as well as feeling connected to more sources for support. And recently, training requirements for the 9000 treatment foster parents in Ohio is expanding such that foster parents will need to take education advocacy related courses each year to continue developing their knowledge and skills. We still have a long way to go, but we are pleased with the achievements we’ve made in Ohio thus far.
*Note: The Education Advocacy Center is currently being integrated into Beech Acres’ School Based Services and will no longer exist as a separate entity.
Racial Disproportionality in U.S. Foster Care System
The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently commissioned a report on racial disproportionality in the child welfare system. This report was conducted by Dorothy E. Roberts of Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research and documents the growing overrepresentation of minority groups in the national foster care population. Casey Family Programs also has supported a number of efforts for national child welfare professionals to convene and discuss policy, practice, and needed research for addresssing disproportionality in the child welfare system. This includes the recent quarterly meeting of the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators, the second national meeting of the Race Matters Consortium, and its ongoing work groups, and sponsorship of representatives from other public systems to participate in the federal
Reprinted with the permission of the NFPA. © 2008 by NFPA. All Rights Reserved.
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