Adoption = Advocacy (Chapter 3: How to Open a Can of Whoop-***)

“You have to consider the source,” opined our social worker. “I mean, the parents didn’t finish school, and obviously their IQs were not…great…so, you really can’t expect much out of these kids. If they graduate high school, you should be celebrating. They will probably never make Cs, much less As and Bs. Lower your expectations and everyone will be happier.”

Our less-than-stellar social worker made this statement when I voiced my concerns about our foster kids’ lack of academic progress. Yes, REALLY.

It’s a prime example of why we should have had a liaison. Unfortunately, we didn’t know enough to ask for one.

Learn from our mistake…even if DSS says, “Sure, you can work directly with us,” find someone to fight for you and the child. You don’t have to go through the expense of an agency–there are non-profits and even court-appointed guardians willing to help. Google “liaison for foster families” and you’ll get “About 368,000 results (0.32 seconds).

If you’re hard-headed (or naive) like me and plan to be your own advocate, prepare yourself for battling burned out/soon-retiring social workers, having sleepless nights and finding steel-gray hairs multiplying on your noggin like rabbits on Cialis.

(I must note here, not all DSS workers are awful. After 1.5 years, a new social worker took over our file. I’m pretty sure she was an angel. I’m also sure that if we’d had her from the beginning, our 2-year adoption process would have taken closer to 6 months, but that’s another story.)

For MONTHS, I petitioned (read: nagged) DSS. The kids needed extra help, for the following reasons:

1. The background paperwork noted that when he was 3 years of age, our 5 year old foster son utilized only ten words; all other communication was non-verbal. Although he’d made progress in two years, his vocabulary was still very limited. He screamed a lot.

2. Our foster daughter, 7, could barely read three-letter words and could not do simple math.

3. Our foster son, 5, could not read ANYTHING and did not even know the entire alphabet. I tried the “let’s think of a word for each letter” approach and found that he did, in fact, know multiple curse words for each of the letters A, B, D, F and G.

4. Both kiddos were failing (Kindergarten and First Grade) across the board. The girl was unable to do the work or focus; the boy’s behavior and inability to focus prevented any learning.

We felt these were legitimate concerns. Our social worker was not inclined to agree.

Something had to change, and it wasn’t our opinion that every kid should have a chance to excel.

At that point, I was clueless. No idea what services were available. Who to ask. Where to look. Google became my best friend. Here’s what I learned from GTE (Google, Trial & Error).

If your adopted or foster child is having trouble in school, he or she probably needs an IEP, or Individualized Education Program, as soon as possible.

Do not pass go, do not collect stipend dollars–march your frazzle directly to the school office and ask what the IEP process is. (It usually takes at least a month to get the ball rolling. You can give that ball a bounce by having a psych/educational evaluation done by an outside professional. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a child psychologist.)

After multiple DSS absences during IEP meetings, the frustrated school principal began faxing paperwork to the social worker. I pestered the mess out of DSS until they faxed the papers back. Both children were approved for IEP and began receiving extra help in reading and math. Results were not immediate, but we began to see steady changes. 2.5 years later, we see HUGE improvement in both academic and behavioral areas.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child. Even if you haven’t adopted them yet (and even if that’s not in the plan), YOU are still the one adult who can make a difference. The social worker does not see the child in day-to-day activity. She’s not directly involved in homework frustrations. Not getting “the look” from a very concerned teacher. Not dealing with the irate bus driver. Not driving to school, yet again, because your foster daughter punched some kid in the face.

YOU are the one saving this kid from disaster. Put on your grownup panties (or boxers) and DO IT.

To recap:

  1. Get a liaison.
  2. Don’t let DSS bully you. Feel free to bully DSS. In some cases, it’s the only way to get what your child needs.
  3. GET AN IEP. GET AN IEP. GET AN IEP. Foster kids are under-served by the system and their school careers are interrupted, usually many times. Very few won’t need an IEP.
  4. Be proactive. Don’t wait for the teacher’s concerned note. If your child is having problems academically or behaviorally, get help. Now.
  5. Bring out Mama (or Papa) Bear. No need to be afraid. Everyone should have the child’s best interest in mind. If they don’t, REMIND THEM.

Also, never let anyone talk you into lowering your expectations (unless you expect them to make A+ on everything…in which case, you just need to stop smoking the proverbial crack).

Foster kids fully receive and believe the message that they are “LESS”…less capable, less wanted, less intelligent, less loved. Expect their best from them and show them how to attain personal success. Be careful not to inadvertently communicate that you expect perfection. Keep in mind, improvement = success.

And if your social worker suggests that low IQ is hereditary, perhaps it would be okay to ask about their parents’ intelligence quotient.

“Wow. If parental IQ determines the child’s ability and intelligence, then your parents must have been REALLY stupid.”

That’s what I should have said.

About Casey

Adoption = my life. I'm determined to give my kids the chance they deserve. Adoption isn't always easy. I promise, you're not alone in this. Join me at - we're in this together.

Posted on August 13, 2014, in Adoption, Education and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. And, yet again, there are non-achiever parents, who regret lost opportunities, or opportunities that they never had, and are willing to be flexible and do what it takes to help their child go beyond.
    I think it’s positivity, hope and seeing the possibilities that make a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Eliza, for your thoughts. I sometimes put myself in the bio-parents’ shoes and wonder if they wish they had supported the kids with a stronger educational beginning…or if they are even aware that it was necessary. How do you help/instruct the parents who are not playing an integral role in the learning process, as far as music goes?


      • Hello Casey,
        I email them with regular progress reports, ask them to drop in on class whenever they can, sometimes meet with them before class (and talk without their child present), have concerts so they hear other children playing, on a regular basis,
        So, they can see the progress of other children of the same age group.
        Mostly, parents are interested, once they realise other children who started out slow are now learning really really fast.
        I’ve also done a course in counselling – the Robert Carkhuff method – which helped me learn how to talk to parents and children, when i have difficulty getting through. And would recommend that every piano teacher does some kind of course in psychology or counselling. I also read up a lot on different ways of communicating and it helps.
        However, my role is not to tell the parents what to do, but merely to give them ideas and show them possibilities and then let them decide how much support they can give..and i then work with that. Hope that answers your question.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In the course of piano teaching, i’ve had children who are slow thinkers, or who learn slowly and have found changes in teaching and parenting techniques can make them learn better. So, i interact with parents a lot, read up when i’m having a problem getting through and keep trying different ways.
    The difficulty is not so much finding a teaching technique that get’s through to the child, but often, getting parents to understand that their child needs their time, patience and help. Help – not necessarily in the way the parent would give it naturally, but in a specific way that will promote learning.
    Which means often, that parents need to be flexible, open to change and have a rapport with me – the child’s piano teacher, to trust me enough to work with me. I do feel very strongly, that all children, given the support they need, can learn better.
    I think parental IQ matters, not because of the IQ the child has inherited, but simply because parents with a low IQ or low levels of achievement themselves, are often not able to see just how high their child can go, and therefore do not sometimes, understand that idea – that their child has the ability to go far far beyond what they think is possible.
    So, getting them to support their child’s learning in a way that is different from what they usually do, is often harder and takes me a longer time.

    Liked by 1 person

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