One of the most valuable things you can give a child is proper access to a good education. School districts and administrators have varying levels of knowledge about kinship care and working with relative families. Many caregivers are surprised to learn that their district is familiar with this type of situation, and can connect with the school to get the child the best coordination of services possible. For others, learning to work with the schools can require patience and understanding. Below you will find information about aspects of the public education system.
Great Start and Early Education
Children who are enrolled in preschool or other early education programs benefit from the developmental skills learned from being in that environment as well as gain the skills that they need to successfully begin regular schooling. Free or low-cost early education programs may be available in your area.
Head Start and Great Start Readiness Program both aim to help low-income or at-risk children prepare to be successful in school. The Head Start program reaches out to children from ages 3-5, and there is an Early Head Start program for children under 3. Great Start provides pre-schooling for children who are 4 years old.
Caregivers can visit their website to find out more information about Great Start and locate an early education program in their area.
Enrollment in Grades K-12
An initial struggle some caregivers face is getting the child enrolled in school. Start by calling your local school and asking what paperwork is required in order to enroll your child. Typically schools require a birth certificate or other proof of the child’s age, residency information (e.g. utility bills, a signed lease), parent/guardian info, contact information, school history, medical history including immunizations, etc. If there is a custody/guardianship/adoption/etc. situation involved, the school may need that paperwork as well, although having legal guardianship is not required to be able to enroll a child in school. Schools will want to ascertain that the placement with a kinship caregiver is for the purpose of providing a suitable home for the child and not simply for purpose of having the child attend a more desirable school. Caregivers should be prepared to be asked about the reason the child is living with them.
If the child has been placed in the caregiver's home through the child welfare system they may be able to enroll and be eligible for services under the umbrella of the McKinney-Vento Act. Every school has a McKinney-Vento liaison that helps enroll homeless students and those who have been recently placed by a child welfare agency. If you are facing challenges getting a child enrolled into your local school, ask a school administrator to contact their McKinney-Vento liaison. More information about this act can be found in the 76-page brochure “The McKinney-Vento Act and Children and Youth Awaiting Foster Care Placement”. Download the pdf here.
Caregivers arguably play one of the most important roles in ensuring their student’s success in school. Throughout the first few years of your child’s schooling, you may find it helpful for you and your child to meet the teacher before starting a new school year to help ease your child’s fears and anxiety about starting school. As your student moves through the middle years of their schooling, keeping track of their homework assignments, encouraging them to succeed, staying in contact with their teachers, and emphasizing and demonstrating the importance of school for your student becomes increasingly important. Once your student enters high school, encouraging them to participate in extracurricular activities, beginning to plan for the future—careers, colleges, universities, tech-schools, etc.—expressing your expectations and values, praising and encouraging them can help encourage your student to succeed in school.
Throughout their entire education parent-teacher conferences play an important role in creating a successful student. These meetings provide an opportunity to make learning professionals aware of your situation that will ensure that they are sensitive to the issues and that they will consider your circumstances when working with the student. It is also helpful for caregivers to make the time for parent-teacher conferences so that you can check in on the child’s progress. Conferences can be one of the few times that parents and their student’s teacher can sit down and discuss the child’s progress without being interrupted. Use this time to build a positive partnership with your student’s teacher, check how your student is progressing in school, and develop a plan to address any difficulties or challenges your student may be facing.
The US Department of Education has a great guide on how caregivers can be involved throughout their child’s learning experience. You can download a pdf file of this 32-page document, Parent Power: Build the Bridge to Success.
The term “special education” refers to a teaching alternative that personalizes teaching strategies for students with academic, behavioral, health, or physical needs beyond those met by the traditional classroom. Special education in schools is a program for students in which the curriculum and teaching techniques are specified to meet the individual child’s needs. The curriculum is individually created based on an IEP (Individualized Education Program) that monitors the teaching techniques, adapts equipment and materials to meet the specific needs of each child, and includes other interventions that are necessary to provide the child with assistance to enable them to achieve a higher level of success in school and the community that would not be available to the student if they were to be placed in a typical classroom setting.
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Once a child is identified as needing special education services, the next step is to attend an IEP meeting; here a step-by-step plan will be created for the student’s teachers, parents, other school administrators, any other professionals working with the student, as well as the student (when appropriate) describing what services the student will be receiving as well as why they are receiving it. Specific goals will be outlined for the student as well as a description of the programs and services the student will receive and an overview of the methods that will be used to determine and monitor progress.
For more information on how to prepare for an IEP check out the Michigan Alliance for Families’ guide on IEP’s.
Providing breakfast and lunch for school-aged children can be costly and difficult for caregivers. Most schools offer free or reduced lunch programs for children when the family can display financial need. If your child has an open foster care case they can receive free meals regardless of income. You will need to fill out an application that will ask you about sources of income for your family. This application can be completed at any time during the year if your financial situation changes. Please contact your school to gain more information about free or reduced-cost lunch programs.
You are encouraged to talk to your local school and higher education institutions about available scholarships and financial aid. You might also want to visit the website of the Michigan Student Scholarships and Grants.