A School Teacher Introduced Me to Foster Care
By Krista Petty, Faith Sphere Manager, America’s Kids Belong
Unless someone jogs my memory, I can’t name a single family or kid involved in foster care from my childhood…or even through college. It’s not because everything in my community was perfect. It just wasn’t talked about in my school, at church or within my family. That’s all changed now and I have a school teacher to thank for putting foster care on my radar.
I came face to face with foster care for the first time 13 years ago while volunteering in my daughter’s 3rd grade class. Mrs. B always paired me with one little boy, named “C”. I would take C to the library and help him finish his morning work once a week, because he sometimes became distracted in the larger classroom. Some days he was quiet and got to work. Other days, he was chatty and told me about a hotrod car he was sketching.
One day C was very irritated with his hair. His bangs kept falling over his eyes. He grew increasingly angry about it, and finally smacked his forehead. “My mom won’t take me to get a haircut!”
“Oh? Why not?” I asked.
“She spends all her time with the boyfriend and… I hate him!”
I was shocked. This was the first time he’s mentioned any boyfriend. “Buddy, why do you hate her boyfriend?”
C clenched his jaw and just glared at me. He froze and was either unwilling or unable to put words to those feelings. After an awkward pause I asked him, “Can I help you with your hair?”
He stopped making eye contact and shrugged. “Sure.”
He let me use a large paperclip to hold his long, wispy bangs back. His jaw loosened up and finally a small grin formed. “Hey, that kinda works…but you better take that out before I go back to class!”
We shared a laugh and C finally focused on his worksheet. When I told Mrs. B what was going on with C that day in the library, she wasn’t surprised. She’d been concerned about the emotional and behavioral changes she’d seen in him over the past month.
That was the last day I saw C.
There was a pile of laminated letters for me to cut out the next week I volunteered in the class. Mrs. B told me C had shared some “difficulties at home” and that he was with a new family who lived in a different elementary school district. Her soft and sad expression told me everything I needed to know. C’s life had turned confidential. He was in foster care.
I had not thought about C in several years. But when schools closed, he immediately came to mind. It was Mrs. B who could see and sense the dangerous situation he was in. It was someone from the school that made the call to alert child welfare. By law, teachers are mandatory reporters, but they are so much more. Teachers are ESSENTIAL reporters in the fight against child abuse and neglect.
And they know it. It’s why they are scrambling to get online and SEE their students—not just to teach them a science lesson. It’s why schools quickly organized distribution of free lunches and in some cases, technology, to assist in keeping connected with kids during quarantine. It’s why thousands of teachers have created parades, staying safely in their cars, while waving to students and holding posters saying, “We love you and miss you!”
Thousands of eyes are now OFF of kids like C. That should concern us all.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
CHECK ON AT-RISK CHILDREN / FAMILIES THAT YOU KNOW. THIS IS CRITICAL. Text or reach out on social media and see if they need anything. Use your own resources, social network, or faith connections to meet those immediate and felt needs.
PREPARE TO BE A FOSTER PARENT. If you’ve ever considered it, now is the time to PREPARE for it. The very unfortunate truth about this current season is that some caregivers will become ill or pass away. This isolation will raise the cycle of abuse and neglect for children. The number of children in foster care will rise, while the number of foster or kinship parents will likely decrease. It might take a while for orientation or licensing classes to move online, but don’t give up. Don’t think you won’t be needed. You will be. Visit Prepare to Be a Foster Parent and start the process.
CHECK ON TEACHERS. Many of them are worried about some of their students. You don’t have to pry…just thank them for being educators, sustainers of community, and protectors of kids.
Pictured above: Mrs. Emily Lowery, a Para Educator at Spirit Lake Elementary School in Iowa preparing for the teacher parade around her town.