In an effort to help confront a perpetual problem for foster youth – lack of parental involvement in their schools and education – foster parent leaders in Maryland have created what they say is the nation’s first PTA for foster parents.
The idea comes from so-called “non-traditional PTAs” that serve the parents of children in special education. Sam Macer, the education chairman and president-elect of Maryland Foster Parents Association, decided that foster parents need a non-traditional PTA as well.
“Foster parents are a perfect example of how a regular PTA might not be able to service [them] because their interests are so focused,” Macer said.
Although research shows that parental involvement in their children’s education boosts academic achievement, parental involvement in the education of foster youths is, in the words of one recent California study, “extremely problematic.” One reason, says the 2007 California Foster Youth Education Summit, is that foster youth are often in a state of “limbo” when it comes who is responsible for making their education decisions – biological parents, foster parents or state agencies.
And those youths really need the help: Numerous studies have shown that as a group, foster youth lag behind other youth in academic achievement and are more likely to drop out of school. They often enter foster care already behind, and their struggles are exacerbated by such factors as transferring to new homes (and therefore sometimes new schools) and emotional problems stemming from abuse and neglect. Some of those studies are summarized in this report by Chapin Hall.
Into this challenge steps the Maryland Foster Parent Teacher Association – although after its announcement in September, it changed its name to the Maryland Resource Parent PTA, because PTA membership must be open to everyone. Macer, who is also president of the Maryland PTA, said the new group will reach out as well to “adoptive parents, kinship care providers, informal providers and group home providers.”
Compared with regular PTAs, Macer says, nontraditional PTAs are not necessarily part of the school environment, and are more likely to focus on advocacy for specific groups of children – which is what the new PTA will do.
He excepts the group to concentrate on such issues as the effect of traumatic experiences on student performance and behavior, continuing education while transitioning out of foster care and gaps in educational achievement between foster and non-foster youth.
The organization also hopes to connect foster parents with the state and national PTAs, offering them access to training opportunities to build their leadership and advocacy skills. The foster parents will also have access to various PTA programs for children, such as an arts contest and a healthy lifestyles program, along with scholarships and awards.
The new PTA drew support from Irene Clements, president of the National Foster Parents Association (NFPA), who said each state “should create a [foster parent] PTA, because [states] are being required by the federal government to meet a certain expectation of how kids are doing,” and such PTAs could help the foster youths’ academic performance.
A spokesman for the National PTA said that it did not know of any such group – including the new one in Maryland – but that the PTA supports the idea.