Nebraska's Tool Kit for Systems Involved in the Education of Students in Out-of-Home Care

Tool B-4:  Asking the RIght Questions
Classroom Checklist for Educators with Students in Out-of-Home Care

Part One: Systems Collaboration
Section B. Asking the Right Questions

NOTE: The following has been adapted from “Endless Dreams: Building Educational Support for Youth in Foster Care” developed by Casey Family Programs in 2006. Information on Development Assets has been included from the SEARCH institute.

children in class, learning from laptop with teacherAs an educator, you most likely have daily contact with students who are in out-of-home care, whether it be a foster home, group home, shelter or other residential setting.  These children and youth face a variety of unique challenges to their personal development and academic success as they undergo multiple transitions, including changes in residential placement, school and legal status.  Students involved in the child welfare, juvenile justice and/or criminal justice systems have often experienced significant adversity in the form of neglect, abuse, sexual victimization, domestic violence, abandonment, homelessness or poverty.  For some students, minimal school engagement, truancy, school suspension, expulsion or dropping out may be common and re-occurring themes. 

Environmental deprivation in the parental home, frequent changes in home and school, and interference or disruption in learning may have resulted in delays in the student’s development, skill acquisition and academic achievement.  As an educator, it is important to be sensitive to any learning gaps which may have occurred as a result of these factors.  The following “Checklist” of suggestions is designed to assist you in helping students in out-of-home care feel safe and comfortable in your classroom as well as promote their continued school engagement and academic success. 

Place a positive emphasis on the student’s assets and strengths

  • In recognition that students in out-of-home care are likely to have already experienced considerable personal and academic challenges, it is especially important to provide them with as many opportunities as possible to develop positive functioning and resilient characteristics.  There is considerable research linking the existence of Developmental Assets with positive outcomes for children and youth.  Students with a greater number of these building blocks for healthy development tend to experience more hope and overall positive outcomes in terms of academic performance and physical and mental health.
  • Young people with a greater number of Developmental Assets have increased resistance skills to cope with negative peer influences and are less likely to engage in risk-taking activities.  Research has shown the more vulnerable youth are, the more they seem to benefit from the protective impact of Developmental Assets.  Taking the time to build a relationship with the student is one of the strongest protective factors in promoting resilience and buffering the negative effects of risk.
  • Students in out-of-home care may have little sense of control over their own lives and feel powerless to shape their future.  Emphasizing the student’s assets and strengths, teaching self-advocacy and decision-making strategies, and providing opportunities to make positive choices and set goals will promote a sense of hope, empowerment and independence.

Obtain relevant education records and personal background information about the student

  • Some students in out-of-home care may make frequent school changes, which can result in misplaced or incomplete school records.  It is important that all relevant information be available in the student’s records at the time he or she is enrolled at the school building.  If the education records are unavailable or incomplete, contact the out-of-home caregiver or other adult(s) providing court-ordered supervision and services, such as the Nebraska Department of Health and Services (NDHHS) Caseworker or contractual Service Coordinator, Juvenile Services Officer (JSO), Probation Officer, Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, or medical or mental health professional.

Establish a positive working relationship with the student's out-of-home caregiver and other adult(s) providing court-ordered supervision and services

  • It is important to establish and maintain ongoing communication and a positive working relationship with the out-of-home caregiver and other significant adults regarding the student's homework and academic and behavioral progress. When a student in out-of-home care returns or enrolls at your school, exchange contact information with his or her parents, the out-of-home caregiver and other adult(s) providing court-ordered supervision and services. Encourage their attendance at Student Assistance Team (SAT) meetings, Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, Parent/Teacher Conferences and other school events.

Advocate for the student’s educational needs, remembering children and youth in out-of-home care may lack consistent advocates in their lives

  • Because of changes in residential placement, school and legal status as well as the focus on issues related to child welfare, safety, court status, physical and/or mental health, the educational needs of a student in out-of-home care may become secondary.  You, as an educator, are in a position to be aware of needs or concerns which may have gone unnoticed by others.  It is important to share this information with the out-of-home caregiver and other adult(s) providing court-ordered supervision and services.  If the student has any special needs, advocate for appropriate interventions to address those needs.  When appropriate, make referrals to the school’s Student Assistance Team, Special Education staff, Guidance Counselor, school Social Worker and/or medical or mental health professional.

When developing curricula and school assignments, be sensitive to situations which may be awkward or painful to a student in out-of-home care because of a history of neglect, abuse, victimization or removal from the parental home

  • Carefully review school assignments which could be emotionally difficult or unrealistic to complete for a student in out-of-home care, such as drawing a family tree or bringing family photos.  Be particularly sensitive to sex education curriculum which could be traumatic for a student who has been sexually abused or victimized.  Be aware of and respect a student’s need for personal space and physical boundaries.  Consult the school Social Worker or a medical or mental health professional for advice in those cases.

Provide structure and predictability in classroom management and instruction

  • Structure and predictability will help counteract the internal trauma and external chaos a student in out-of-home care may be experiencing by providing a sense of security and control within the classroom environment.  Be aware of and sensitive to the student’s reaction to court-ordered events, particularly on school days falling immediately before or after a court appearance, parent/child or family visitation, Case Plan review or change in out-of-home placement.

Anticipate situations where the student may have difficulty with peer relationships and help him or her with those relationships

  • Developing and maintaining positive peer relationships may be challenging, particularly if the student has recently changed schools.  Some students in out-of-home care may not have had the opportunity to develop or practice positive social skills.  Although students may want good relationships with peers, they may choose to isolate themselves or push others away.  To assist in addressing the student’s needs and concerns about peer relationships, contact the out-of-home caregiver or other significant adult(s) involved, such as a mentor, mental health professional or other adult(s) providing court-ordered supervision and services.


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