Tuning Foster Families into Early Education
Statistics show nearly half of all children in foster care will not be prepared for kindergarten. The same number will be held back a school year by the third grade.
Ashley Hutchison has devoted her career to mending the gap between children in foster care and Beaufort County schools. For three years, Ashley has worked in Beaufort as the Parent Educator Coordinator through the Parents as Teachers curriculum. The staff at the Beaufort County School District has made it their goal to assist children and their caregivers in preparing students for success in the classroom. Bringing the program straight to the child's home, Parents as Teachers is designed to work with children and caregivers one-on-one. "We've helped caregivers with birth certificates for their child, setting up social security cards and Medicaid," Ashley explained, "These are basics that some caregivers don't have the information to accomplish or even know are available."
Three years ago, Beaufort County School District realized a need for a unique program designed specifically to care for children in foster care. Many issues that hindered a child's success in school were spawned from a disconnect between the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the schools. Many teachers were unaware that a student was in foster care, and caregivers at home did not always understand the transitions the child was experiencing. Building relationships with the child, the Parents as Teachers educators are most often the only source of consistency these children are exposed to. Standing in the connection gap immediately proved a huge success and produced positive results. "I act as a liaison between DSS, the child, and the school." Ashley has helped many children achieve successes they never thought possible. "It's very rewarding to see how far they've come, especially children in foster care. With the help of foster parents and our program, they transition into a healthy environment. We meet their needs and prepare them for education because we know that a good education means a good life."
Ashley has always had a heart for children. With an undergraduate degree in elementary education, she recently earned a master's degree in teaching. "I try to make sure children who reside in foster care are cared for while at school, and that they do not fall between the cracks. As a result of our services, we've seen an increase in the number of students who attend early education programs. We help foster parents, biological parents, students, and other agencies make that connection with the child to ensure students are not neglected."
Headquartered on Ladys Island, the nonprofit organization also offers a children's library and toy rental, parent resources and information, and motor development projects families can take home. "We believe the caregiver is the child's first teacher, so they need to get the child ready for school and then work along with the teachers."
A child abuse prevention agency, the program is free to all in need and assists foster parents and their children, grandparents raising grandchildren, relatives raising children, and other nontraditional families. Not only helping with academics, the program supports the families financially as much as they are able. "We've helped grandparents with the cost of school uniforms and supplies because it is such a burden on them." Striving to ease that burden, Ashley connects grandparents with food banks, thrift stores, and other resources. "People donate at Christmas, but it is a financial struggle throughout the year. At times, we receive calls from grandparents asking for help with purchasing something as simple as laundry detergent."
In fact, finances are proving to be a burden to the program as well. The program received a three-year grant, and Ashley and the staff are currently in their last year. Regular funding is quickly draining away. "The need is still here," Ashley says, "But even without funding, this organization is not going to stop serving these parents. We can't."
"It's very rewarding to see how far they've come, especially children in foster care. With the help of foster parents and our program, they transition into a healthy environment. We meet their needs and prepare them for education because we know that a good education means a good life."