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What Foster and Adoptive Parents Want Teachers to Know

We all know that the students in our classrooms come from many walks of life. Children with various socioeconomic backgrounds, learning exceptionalities, or language barriers. You’ve likely spent numerous hours studying these populations. There’s another category of children that you may not think about as often: the child who is fostered or was adopted. They are in the classrooms and need specific care and consideration. I spoke with foster and adoptive parents, and asked, “What do you want the teachers to know?”

1. “Even a basic understanding of childhood trauma can help.” A child who has been removed from his home will have trauma. The way in which you speak to, touch, discipline, redirect, and even feed that child will be different than the ways in which you interact with his peers. Even children adopted at birth have trauma. They are separated from their birth family, and stressful pregnancy circumstances cause raised cortisol levels that can impact brain development in utero. Assume all adopted children have big feelings about their lives, even when it's been a "best case scenario." Educate yourself on childhood trauma and best practice techniques.

2. “Even the most innocent classroom activity can reengage traumatic or painful events.” For instance, the age-old assignment of completing a family tree can be difficult for foster and adoptive families. You ask the child to not only revisit the trauma, but to also discuss it in front of the class. One adoptive mom was prepared to battle the family tree, but was taken aback when her child was asked to bring in a baby picture during the insect life cycle unit. With no baby pictures to show, the child was instantly alienated from his peers. When assigning family-related projects, provide options. Perhaps students can complete a family tree, bring in a baby picture, draw a picture of an important person in their lives, make an acronym of their name, or create a Family Garden where they write names of all the important people in their lives on the flowers.

3. “Be mindful of books that the children will be reading.” Books that discuss abandonment, or even sibling rivalry, may spark thoughts and feelings that you did not anticipate. One preschooler went to school and was read a story about a boy being left behind by his brothers. His mother said, “He interpreted that story of Joseph being disregarded by his brothers to be the story of his birth mom disregarding him. Right after school, he asked me why his birth mom didn’t want him.” This child was adopted at birth, so while he never lived in a traumatic environment, his reality and lens is different than his peers. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that he should never hear this story. It’s a Bible story that is important to their family. His mom would just like teachers to be mindful of the thoughts that may be stirred up by different themes. Reach out to the parents if you are considering a story that may trigger big feelings.

4. “Use me as a resource.” If you have questions about the child, don’t hesitate to ask the foster/adoptive parent. Discuss upcoming events, activities, learning units, or field trips that may contain an unexpected emotional connection. Ask them if they would like to share something with the class. One adoptive mom said, “I have read adoption books to the class before, at the request of my children, and I think it really helped with coaching the teacher about the positive adoption language we use in our family.”

And in the end, I would simply encourage you to love that child. Consider his strength and resiliency. You may have heard the statement, “I could never foster a child because I would fall in love with him, and it would hurt too much if he left.” Fall in love with that child. He needs it. He deserves it. He is worth it.

Ashford University/Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education

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