Foster Care and School: The Child’s “Best Interest” is Everything
Updated: Aug 27, 2018
Did you know that when a child is placed in foster care they often have to change schools? The practice of deciding where a child will move when entering foster care, and whether or not they have to move schools, is part of a process called Best Interest Determination. Like the title suggests, the process reviews the child and their family’s current situation, and makes decisions based on the “Best Interest” of the child.
How does Best Interest Determination happen?
Children enter foster care because their parents/legal guardian are unable to ensure the child’s safety and/or well-being. Under these circumstances, the government will take custody of the child and identify a temporary home. Ideally, children will stay with a foster family who is a resident of the same school district. As a result, the child can still be close to their birth family/relatives while their family works towards reunification and the child can remain at their school.
Why is it important for children to remain in the same school?
When deciding where to place a child in foster care, the court system makes every attempt to keep the child at the school they currently attend. This is because each time a student has to change schools, they have to make new friends, get used to new teachers, and adjust to a whole new school curriculum. This is challenging enough for children in families who work in heavily mobile industries, such as military families. For children going into foster care, who are being separated from their family as opposed to moving with their family, it is extremely difficult for the child. Staying in the same school helps retain current relationships, ensures educational continuity, and minimizes the traumatizing effects of entering foster care.
Still, sometimes the government will decide that a child must change schools. There are typically two main reasons:
1. The safety and well-being of the child
Most children come into foster care because of abuse or neglect, therefore, safety is a top priority for children in care. So for a wide variety of reasons, the government may move the child outside of their current school district to ensure the child’s safety.
2. Lack of foster families in the child’s school district
There are typically more children in need of foster homes than there are homes to accommodate them. In the case of school consistency, a child may have to move school districts because the best match for a foster family may be located outside their school zone.
The Best Interest Determination process is crucial to ensuring the well-being of the child. Because education is crucial to child development and future success, it is very student-focused. Even if it is decided that a child must move schools for reasons like safety, their support team while in foster care will meet on a regular basis to guarantee the child makes as successful a transition as possible.