The Beginning of the School Year is Challenging for all Students, but especially for Foster Youth

The start of a new school year is an exciting and scary time for all children. However, for children living in foster care, the start of a new school year can be overwhelming.

First, foster youth move frequently, which puts them at least six months academically behind their peers. The frequent moves also mean that many foster youth are beginning the year in a new school, without the safety network of returning friends, familiar teachers or an understanding of the school culture.

boy with head down on chalk board

In addition, these students face enormous personal emotional challenges. First, is the abuse or neglect that put them in care, but there is also the embarrassment of being in foster care, being separated from siblings and parents and living in a strange home. All of these factors weigh heavily on these young people. It is imperative that teachers, administrators, foster parents and all of those in the foster youth’s life to pay special attention to how these students assimilate into the classroom and watch for any bullying or shaming that may occur. Any additional emotional trauma would devastate an already fragile situation.

Research shows that youth living in foster care are more likely to drop out of high school and are least likely to attend college. An organized effort to safeguard a smooth school transition for these youth is the key to a positive educational experience that can offset some of the damage done by the abuse, neglect and the barriers that these youth experience. Additionally, and most importantly, an improved educational experience will enhance the overall wellbeing of each student and provide a pathway to self-sufficiency and a successful adulthood.

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Back to School Advice for All Youth

It is finally September, and that means back to school! We put together a list with back to school advice for foster and adoptive children, as well as all children, teens, and college freshmen as they start school this fall. To see a version of this post that color-codes advice by grade level, click here.

For  Foster and Adoptive Children

When children are in foster care or with an adoptive family, sometimes their peers will ask them personal questions. Therefore, it is useful for parents and guardians to come up with a plan for their children to answer these questions ahead of time. About.com provides many useful examples:

  • When someone asks, “Why didn’t your mom want you? Do you know your real mom?” A child can say a few different things: “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” “I don’t share personal information.” “I know who my parents are, and they love me very much.”
  • “Why are you in foster care?” A child can reply, “I need to live where it’s safe right now.” Walking away is always an option, too.
  • “Why are you adopted?” Child: “My parents adopted me because they love me.”
  • The article also mentions how learning to develop a sense of humor can help a child in responding to these peer questions. For example, if a student asks, “Why don’t you look like your mom or brother and sister?” The child can say, “Because I’m better looking!”
  • It is important for children to learn the importance of privacy, and this is a great way to teach them.
  • For more examples, visit: http://adoption.about.com/od/fostering/a/coverstories.htm

For all youth

Organization

  • Write all homework assignments in a planner. For new middle school students, it is also helpful to write locker combinations in a planner as well.
  • To prevent children from forgetting their homework, it is a good idea to always keep backpacks in a designated area of the house. It is also helpful to pack backpacks, lunches, and select outfits the night before school, so that mornings are relaxed and no one is late in the morning.
  • If you are out sick from school, do not forget to makeup your homework. Ask a classmate if you can also copy the notes you missed in class.
  • Be aware of and utilize resources that are available to you. Does your teacher post assignments on her website? Is there a homework hotline, tutoring service, or does your teacher have office hours?
  • Read your entire syllabus for each class, and then write all of the due dates for papers, quizzes, and exams in your planner. This way, you will not need your syllabus on hand to know when assignments are due.

Learning

  • Ask the teacher if you do not understand something or if you are confused!
  • For classes that require memorization, like history, biology, and language classes, make flash cards! Study a little each day.
  • Try your best, but do not beat yourself up for mistakes. No one is perfect.
  • Professors are required to have office hours. Write the office hours on your notebooks for each class, or write them in your planner. Form a study group with your classmates.
  • Review your notes right after class! This reinforces what you just learned, and it only takes 10 minutes or less.
  • Try to learn new things. For the classes not required by your major, take those that will open you up to new ways of thinking.
  • If you are not sure what to major in, see if your school has a career center with resources that provide students with a better idea of what career paths are out there. Ask lots of questions to professionals in fields you might be interested in.

Extracurricular Activities & Socializing

  • It is great to get involved with new activities, like soccer or cheerleading or football, or art classes and karate. But be careful not to overdo it. More than two activities can sometimes lead to stress and burn-out.
  • Befriend students who make you feel comfortable and accept you for who you are.
  • Join clubs to meet new people! Do you like hiking? Join the Ecology Club!
  • Be confident. Sometimes “Fake it ‘til you make it” really works in terms of gaining self confidence.
  • In college, make time to socialize a couple days a week, even if it is just grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend. Life will get busy, but you need to have some down time.
  • If you live in a dorm, introduce yourself to the people on your floor.
  • Keep in touch with close family, friends, and mentors. This can also help if you feel homesick!
  • Join at least one extra curricular activity to meet new people. The options are limitless in college, and they go way beyond what is offered in high school. Do you like Ultimate Frisbee? Chances are, there is a group for that at college.

Health

  • Sleep. Did you know that after studying for a test, going to sleep helps people to better retain that information? Additionally, not getting enough sleep can contribute to lack of focus, depression, and weight gain. So making sure students of all ages are getting enough sleep is a key to success and health.
    • Recommended hours of sleep for different ages:
      • Children between ages 5-10: 10-11 hours of sleep
      • Children and teens between ages 10-17: 8.5-9 hours
      • Adults: 7-9 hours.
  • Set an alarm each day! This is especially important in college when it is 100% up to you to make sure you arrive to class on time.
  • Eat breakfast! It is common for youth to skip this meal, but it is important. It helps students focus better in class, and it prevents them from feeling extremely hungry before lunchtime. (Tips for teen girls).
  • Exercising is important. If an extra curricular activity does not involve exercise, try to make time for it at least twice a week. It relieves stress and promotes health. There are examples of quick workouts here: http://collegelife.about.com/od/healthwellness/a/16-College-Workouts.htm. Or you could try the New York Times’ “Scientific 7-Minute Workout:” http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/.

Additional Sources:

http://childcare.about.com/od/quicktipsforraisingkids/qt/survivingyear.htm

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/teen-angst/201308/five-back-school-tips-teens

http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/school/back_to_school.html

http://www.laparent.com/article/ten-tips-for-teen-girls-and-back-to-school-success.html

http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

Domestic Violence in Movies: Precious (2009)

precious

Directed by Lee Daniels and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Precious is a movie based on the novel, Push, that takes place in 1987 Harlem and portrays a heartbreaking story of domestic violence.

Claireece Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), who goes by her middle name, Precious, is a 16-year-old black girl who has been sexually abused and raped by her father since she was three. She fathered two of his children, and the first born has Down syndrome. Precious’ mother Mary (Mo’Nique) physically and emotionally abuses her on a daily basis. Her own grandmother is scared to take Precious in because she fears Mary’s reaction. To make matters worse, Precious tests positive for HIV, which she contracted from her father. She also cannot read, but she does learn how after being sent to an alternative school.

Living with her mother is extremely toxic. Mary hits Precious frequently and throws things at her if she does not listen to her commands. Additionally, she verbally abuses her and puts her down, calling her stupid, fat, and saying that she will amount to nothing. Lastly, she collects welfare, does not look for a job, and consistently tells Precious that education is useless.

precious_mary

For a long time, Precious was too frightened to tell guidance counselors and teachers about what goes on in her home because her mother would react violently toward her. One time a guidance counselor showed up at Precious’ house unannounced, and the mother blamed it all on Precious.

By the time Precious’ second child, Abdul, is born, she runs away from home with her son because her mother abuses him, too. Mary sees that he looks just like his father—Precious’ father—and so she throws the infant on the floor. Then she attacks Precious.

Mary shouts, “You ruined my [expletive] life! You took my man, you had those [expletive] babies, and you got me put off the welfare for running your [expletive], stupid [expletive] mouth.” 

Precious replies, “I ain’t stupid! And I didn’t take your man! Your husband raped me!” 

Her mother snaps back, “Didn’t nobody [expletive] rape you!”

Precious manages to flee with her child, and she focuses on school and raising him.

At the end, Precious’ mother reveals why she hates her daughter so much. Precious is the one who made her father leave; he loved Precious more than her mother. While speaking to Precious’ social worker (played by Mariah Carey), Mary explains why she blames her daughter,

She didn’t scream or anything [when being raped], so it’s hear fault… who else was gonna love me?

Mary does not acknowledge that her daughter was raped until Precious’ social worker forces her to admit it. She questions how she could have let that happen to her own daughter.

This story is an  example of how being abused can perpetuate the abuse cycle, but fortunately Precious has risen above that cycle and has proven that she truly cares about her children.

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There were mixed reviews for this film. Some critics commended the performances and story line for its realism, while others insist that it was stereotypical and overdone.

To start, director Lee Daniels told Essence.com that the movie should be taken seriously. “Life is life. Life is what it is,” he said. [From the LA Times]

Here are some reviews that show the pros and cons.

ConMark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, told the New York Times, “People are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light.” He said there has always been a history of negative imagery in popular culture, which perpetuates the notion of black people being inferior.

ProLatoya Peterson, the editor of Racialicious.com, a blog about the intersection of race and popular culture, calls out those who believe black people should only be presented in an acceptable light. She said of one commenter against the movie, “He’s flattening the black experience, and in that way, he denies our humanity.” Peterson also thinks the movie touches upon many important topics that affect young girls, such as sexual abuse, poverty, violence, and doing poorly in school.

ConFilm critic Armond White said the movie is racist propaganda and a reminder that art and politics cannot be separated for black people.

ProA writer for blackchristiannews.com says, “I think everyone who grew up in South Chicago knew someone that was a Precious or a group of young women that had suffered abuse in different ways like Precious did. That’s what’s ‘hard to watch’ for me.”

Con:
Raina Kelley of The Daily Beast writes, “Her situation feels so extreme that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It becomes too hard to summon up any more outrage at the social worker who never figures out that something awful is happening in Precious’ home… I’m tired of movies presenting black people as grateful to find a helping hand to rise above their abusers. Not because we’ve seen this movie before…but because the story never changes. How about a ‘based on a true story’ tear-jerker that ends with some tangible improvements in the lives of impoverished children?”

Have you seen the movie? Where do you stand?

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