Q&A with Cheyanne Nichols, Foster Care Case Manager and Team Lead, Bethany Christian Services of Indianapolis
Many kids in foster care are academically behind for a number of reasons: cognitive or developmental delay, neglect, prenatal drug or alcohol exposure, or changing schools while being in foster care. Your foster child’s teacher may recommend an IEP to give him or her more academic support in school.
What is an IEP?
IEP is short for “individualized education plan.” A school or teacher can recommend an evaluation on a child’s academic progress, although it’s usually done at the request of a parent or guardian, such as a foster parent.
Once the request is made, the school has a certain number of days (10 in Indiana) to schedule the assessment and review where the child is academically. This is a legal requirement; the school must follow through on a request for evaluation. Following a conference with the child’s parent(s)/guardian, the school will begin putting a plan in place if the child qualifies for support services. A few examples include alternative learning aids or one-on-one sessions with a reading specialist or speech therapist.
As a foster parent, how will I know if the child needs this?
You may request an IEP assessment if you see the child is falling behind or not progressing. The child’s teacher may tell you he is not meeting academic standards and recommend speech and language development, behavior management, or occupational therapy.
If the child’s placement in your home means a new school, and you know the child struggled in his last school, you might ask for an IEP immediately. The school may respond and say, “We want time to assess the child’s performance and progress in our school, through the first marking period.”
If the child has a known cognitive or developmental delay, he may already have an IEP from a previous school. Once an IEP is in place, the goals may change as they are achieved. If you have concerns about the child’s progress, move forward with the plan, even if you don’t know how long the child will be in your care. If the child moves to another school or another placement, it will be helpful for those teachers and parents to know what supports are helping the child succeed.
What if the child’s main challenge at school is behavioral?
A school will not do an IEP for behavior, which doesn’t always affect a child’s academics. Instead, the school may recommend a functional behavior assessment (FBA). These results are also individualized to redirect disruptive behavior and encourage the child toward positive social behavior in the classroom. Schools often have their own plan for behavior issues. This could range from a reward system in the classroom to a skills worker, social worker, or counselor that works with the child one-on-one.
Do the child’s parents have a say in this decision?
Yes. The child’s parents are invited and encouraged to attend all conferences about their child’s academic progress and what, if any, changes the school recommends.
Parents may be sensitive about a foster parent recommending an IEP for their child. They may see the request as a judgement on their parenting. In a best-case scenario, all parties will unite to do what is best for the child’s long-term success. I recommend having your Bethany foster care specialist with you at the school conference in case mediation is needed.
What if I need help with this process?
If you need help navigating the educational system to line up support services, ask your foster care case manager to help you find an educational liaison. These licensed advocates have experience in special education and working in the school system.
The IEP process can be complicated for foster parents, but kids who need extra help at school will benefit from having a plan in place.