Mar 3, 2023

Six Key Ways School-Based Mental Health Professionals Can Support Students in Foster Care

By Tanya Collins and Nanmathi Manian


Viewing a foster child’s academic and social difficulties through a trauma-informed lens can help us understand that these challenges may be result of adverse childhood experiences, such as neglect and abuse. As discussed in our previous blog post, educators and administrators’ ability to recognize this type of trauma in children is critical for providing safe and supportive schools and for creating policies at the district and state level that foster students’ growth. One key aspect of supporting students in foster care is effective collaboration with school-based mental health professionals (SBMHP). 

This collaboration can support a wider range of opportunities to help students develop positive relationships. When all members of the school team combine and share different expertise, they can provide students in foster care appropriate and timely supports. 

In this blog post, we discuss a few key steps SBMHPs and teachers can take together to ensure that their schools have internal capacity to support students in foster care.  

Identifying when disciplinary problems occur

Close observation by educators or SBMHP may reveal connections between behavioral problems and external triggers. For instance, a child may exhibit behavioral changes after a parent visitation session or refuse to participate in a creative writing assignment that involves disclosing autobiographical information. SBMHP can provide interventions and strategies to reduce the frequency and intensity of the behavioral problem. 

Addressing disciplinary concerns

SBMHP and educators can be aware that behavioral changes may potentially arise from the child’s placement in foster care. It is important to determine whether the school discipline provisions aligned with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 apply to that student and that disciplinary decisions are made with an understanding of the student’s needs. For example, SBMHP can ensure that the child is not being punished for missing school because of foster care related requirements, such as parent and family visitation sessions, educational and psychological assessments, or medical appointments. 

Advocating from the child’s perspective

It is important for SBMHP and teachers to listen to the child’s point of view before attending meetings and discuss the student’s concerns with them. Additionally, providing opportunities to discuss academic goals with the child on a regular basis and engaging the child in conversation may help the child begin thinking about his or her academic goals and future career.

Supporting Tier III interventions
Within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports framework, SBMHP can identify trauma interventions and provide professional learning for educators based on an attachment framework. For example, the Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency (ARC) model is a flexible, comprehensive, and evidence-based intervention framework empirically supported for the treatment of adolescents with a history of maltreatment in childhood.

Ensuring external communication and collaboration
SBMHP can a serve as liaison between their school and child welfare agencies. By developing working relationships with child welfare agency staff, educational staff can support the development of clear and consistent guidelines to facilitate information sharing across systems.

Building systems to help children thrive

When schools build systems that create opportunities to build collaboration, they can also improve educational success for students in foster care. Keep an eye out for our next blog post, where we will contemplate the role school systems and policies can play in helping children in foster care thrive by developing skills to respond to adversity.