Friday, August 11, 2006

Foster youth benefit from extracurricular activities

How do extracurricular activities benefit foster youth?
It's difficult to argue the fact that foster youth face educational disadvantages.

Statistics from the Child Trends Databank reveal that foster children are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school and exhibit low levels of school engagement and minimal involvement with extracurricular activties.

Steve Duncan, PhD, of Montana State University attests that, "School extracurricular activities and involvement in community clubs and organizations are important in fostering the strengths of youth; strengths that help young people steer away from undesirable behavior."

According to research, extracurricular involvement by foster children is strongly associated with healthy educational attainment.

Benefits include:
- Lower drop-out rates
- Increased attachment to school
- Increased self esteem
- Better educational outcomes

Being involved in school activities "normalizes" foster youth. It offers opportunities for them to build friendships with youth from different backgrounds. Participation in this arena helps foster children to discern and embrace their talents and abilities.

Barriers to extracurricular involvement

1.) Liability concerns: Traditionally, foster children have often been prohibited from activities such as spending the night at a friend's house, involvement in activities such as clubs or sports teams and even field trips.

Foster parents have been reluctant to (or discouraged from) signing permission slips, without prior approval from the social worker, licensing agency and/or juvenile court.

2.) Frequent school changes: Changing schools makes extracurricular involvement challenging, but not impossible. As a foster teenager, I changed schools five times in high school, while maintaining involvement in Art, Chorus, Drama / Speech Club, Journalism and Junior Miss.

3.) Funding: Special recreational/hobby/extracurricular activity expenditures are not always reimbursed. This includes the purchase or rental of equipment and membership and participation in organized groups, such as the Y, Scouts or Little League.

4.) Transportation: If the foster parent has multiple children in their home, this can be an issue.

What was your experience?
Surprisingly, I have heard tales from foster parents about being required to stay with their foster child (or teenager) throughout the duration of extracurricular activities.

Some states have passed a bill allowing foster parents to apply a "prudent parent standard." For those of you who are foster parents, and who read the blog, I would be interested in hearing about your personal experiences.

Fong, Rowena and Schwab, James, PhD. Relationship between foster care youth's participation in extracurricular activities and positive placement outcomes. Society for Social Work and Research, University of Texas: Janary 14, 2006.
Postcard from "Exploring the Culture of Foster Care"

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I am able to give my foster kids permission for any in-state day event that I think is appropriate. In order for them to spend the night anywhere there must be an adult who has been fingerprinted. Fortunately in my state, school employees all have been already. Generally youth group leaders too.

Getting permission for a kid to cross the state line is an issue requiring a couple months notice. that would not be such a big deal if we did not leave 30 miles from it. There are some interesting destinations on the other side. The Casey social workers are the one who deal with getting the permission. I understand that people working with the state alone sometimes have more trouble.

What is most frustrating is that the kids cannot spend the night at a friend's house unless one of the parents has had a background check. The parents have universally been willing to get it done (especially since Casey will reimburse the expense), but the kids HATE that their friends parents have to ask.

There was one occassion when a kid was at a friend's and snow storm started. Of course there was no one there who had been fingerprinted. I called and told him to stay there for the night. I called the social worker the next day and told her. She backed me up on that call and I never heard anything else about it.
Thanks, Beth, for your insight. It's valuable.

Because I am in Canada we get a stipend for entertainment for the children. I believe foster parents here are paid better than they are in the USA.

We are a level 2 homes which means we take in children with some behavioural difficulties. For 3 children (which we have right now) we receive almost $4500 per month.

We have them in swim but through the summer we make sure they go to camp and we do a weekend away with them somewhere, usually a motel because they love that.

I think it is just as important for them to be treated like they were your normal child and get them into activities where they learn to be part of a group
We haven't gotten a placement yet, but it's my understanding that our state's requirements are the same as Beth's--in order for them to stay anywhere, there has to be a fingerprinted adult in the home, and actually maybe all adults in the home have to be fingerprinted.

We had considered a little boy as an adoptive placement who was very involved in extracurricular activities, and it would have been a big burden on us to transport him and keep him involved, but I feel like that's a choice you make as a foster parent. You can't go into it thinking you can just get them to school and home and that's it, they need to be involved if they so wish.

I think the requirement that you have to stay with them at extracurricular activities is a little ridiculous. The school acts "in loco parentis" for all the other kids, why is a foster child any different? Obviously, you can't drop a 7 year old at Little League and leave, but if the child is of an age where they can be left at practice unsupervised, then making a distinction solely based on their foster status is just flat out discrimination, IMO.
Wow things sure have changed.
I found this link from a coment on my blog here

FWIW I was in foster care from age 12 to 18 (early 1980s) and none of that existed then.
Fingerprints? Permission for out of state? Wow. I wonder if this actually does any good or just makes the kid feel more of a misfit for having to check on this no matter where they go. Is it this way though all the US. Those checks seem like only a negative stab to the child’s ego with no realistic benefit. When I was in care the state DSS checked up on the foster parent, if they trusted the foster parent then they trusted there judgment in all regards end of story. Now I realize there are some problems with this but – wow have they gone to far now?

It was hard enough to be a kid growing up in the system and feeling normal. Try finding a date and bringing them to your “home” for example or do normal parent kid activities with other kids. Now this level. Is this considered acceptable?

I'll be posting on this subject tonight when I get home. Just wanted you to know I was here.
It's because people have become so litigous, especially with children. A foster child is not *legally* your child, even if she is your child in your heart. Therefore, you are about a thousand times more responsible if something happens to her.
At the children's museum where I work, parents loose their kids probably 5-10 times a day. The employee that the parent tells then radios everyone our code for lost kids and everyone stops everything to look.
2 weeks ago, we had a code carry-a-kid for a child that was with her nanny. We found her quickly. But later in the day, when the mother found out about it, she came fuming to the museum with her attorney because she was going to totally punish that nanny. When parents loose their kids, however, no one thinks twice about it. Even if soemthing horrible happens to the child, "Their guilt is punishment enough". But we as a nation love to hate people who aren't the parents who are responsible for something happening to a child. It's just a big hypocrisy where parenting is concerned, imo, and it's carrying over to foster care.
We have a rule in our house...that all children WILL participate in AT LEAST one extracurricular activity. In practice, this has proved to be only slightly more difficult than pulling teeth.

There is something about foster children that--for many or most of them--leaves them without any real interests. Some of them are interested in work, some are interested in MAYBE band. Very few seem to be interested in sports, academic clubs, speech, theater, or what have you.

My mother enforced this rule for nearly 30 years of fostering (this is where I kyped the idea from) and it seemed to really open a few kids' eyes to the possibilities that are there for them.

Many times these kids never had it pointed out to them that they could do some pretty cool stuff. I like to try to rub their faces in the idea and see if it sticks.

Problems with permission slips, disapproval of teachers or peers or community, and whatever other pains in the rear that are involved just don't matter. At all.
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