"A lot of teachers are not trauma-informed, but they are willing to learn. Learn together, in humility, how best to help your child."
Catie Lumpkin and her husband Jamie began fostering about nine years ago. At the time, they had three young sons (age 4, 2 and 1) and had been considering adoption. They had the opportunity to love on a mother in crisis for a period of time and soon after, Jamie mentioned the option of becoming foster parents. Catie said no at first, but her heart was changed as they became more involved in seeking to improve those in need in their city. They have fostered more than 80 children since then, and recently adopted two of those children and welcomed their fourth biological son to the family.
Transitioning to school can be stressful for any child, but for children from trauma backgrounds, it can be exacerbated for a variety of reasons. Going to a new school is just one cause for increased stress. Thankfully, the judge in Catie’s county tries to keep kids in their same school district for stability until a long-term plan has been established. Sometimes for Catie and Jamie, however, that means having several children in different schools at the same time. Catie admits transportation to and from school can get a little crazy logistically, but thankfully the county is able to help with transportation when needed.
Unfortunately, kids with trauma backgrounds can quickly be labeled as “bad” kids because of their behavior. First-time foster parents, or even experienced foster parents who have never had a child with developmental delays or learning disabilities, can be intimidated by something like an IEP meeting (IEP = Individualized Education Plan). Early on, Catie admits she was more reactive than proactive, which created more issues than necessary. But when she went in with an attitude of humility, the teacher responded with humility, and they were able to work together much more effectively.
Catie’s advice is to be willing to come alongside the teacher and do what it takes to make the educational experience a good one for everyone. “A lot of teachers are not trauma-informed, but they are willing to learn. Learn together, in humility, how best to help your child,” Catie advises.
Being proactive rather than reactive will also help your child. Take action to prepare the kids—take the child with you to register so they can see the building and meet school personnel. Come early and practice going to their classroom so they are comfortable and don’t feel lost in an unfamiliar setting. Practice classroom behaviors at home. All of these things will empower the child rather than make them feel as if they have to react to everything. It will decrease their fears about the new situations, new classroom, new school, new teacher—and most often fear is what causes reactionary behavior.
These strategies can be used for any grade level, even for kids going into middle school or high school. Those transitions can be intimidating and scary simply because the child doesn’t know their surroundings or what is expected of them at first. Helping them feel comfortable will lessen their fears and will decrease their reactionary behavior.
Catie also recommends being involved in the school experience for a child in your care as you would for your forever children. If you are a room helper for your child, also be willing to spend time in the classroom helping the teacher of a child you’re fostering. In addition, invite the birth mom to class activities. Work with the teacher about the logistics, but being willing to walk through activities with them will help build relationship.
Be approachable, in other words. Be willing to enter in so that your child, the teacher and even the principal knows that you are there to support and encourage them in whatever ways you can. This will also help your child to feel safe. Feeling safe and being safe are completely different to a child from a trauma background. Catie explains, “Even though they are in a safe environment, they may not feel safe—and we want the school to be safe and feel safe.”
For example, if a child has been picked up from school and put into a foster care situation, or if they have been pulled from their class to be interviewed, these are trauma-inducing activities and they don’t make school feel like a safe place. The foster parents and teachers must work to help the child “feel” safe in the school environment.
A good resource for understanding “felt safety” is Chapter 4 of the TBRI manual. Often Catie will provide this information to the teacher so that the teacher is also empowered to disarm a child’s fear.
What if you’re butting heads with the school/teacher?
Catie suggests making sure the county social worker in included in conversations about difficult topics, as well as the school counselor. These people, plus the teacher and the foster parents are part of the child’s team and they are all important when the child is exhibiting fears and negative behaviors.
If everyone goes in with the attitude of trying to understand it will make everything much easier. The social workers can help others understand and explain the trauma—but everyone needs to understand that they are all on the same team. “Be quick to listen and slow to criticize,” says Catie.
Kids and behavior
One of the things that new foster parents may not realize is that children don’t always know certain behaviors are not normal. In the school setting, this can be exacerbated and quickly escalate. However, instead of punishing them for these actions, help them by asking for “re-do’s” or removing them from the situation. Give them grace and help them understand their behavior and how it affects others.
Also, another strategy is to call out when they’ve done something right. “Praise them for doing it right,” says Catie. “Throw a party on the first day you have no calls from the school!”
As Catie stated earlier, she tries to involve the birth family in regular school activities, as well as special events, as much as possible. They are partners in the process, and depending on your state/county/school policies, they have to give consent for any special services. Developing a good relationship with the birth parents will do much to help everyone.
Sometimes the going is rough—most foster parents know this to be true. Catie suggests making sure that you get time to yourself—especially if you’ve had some hard situations to deal with. “If you’re not careful, those who are serving the traumatized can become traumatized themselves.” To help avoid this “secondary trauma,” she suggests having outside counsel—people who can speak into your life to help you maintain a good balance and see things clearly. These people can also give you space to breathe personally, as well as help protect your marriage and your forever children.
A second parental figure in your child’s life is also a benefit. An adult who will work with your child one-on-one once every week or two can speak into their life as well as give you a much-needed break. Mentors for children in foster care are great—they are also great for your forever children, as it gives them someone to talk to. Ask/seek out people in your kids’ lives who can serve as a mentor.
Remember to pace yourself. Ask the teacher how you can be of service in their classroom, but also ask your child which activities they would like to you participate in. “You’re not called to do everything,” Catie says. “We are not called to be supermoms—we are called to rely on our great God.”
Sometimes, when kids are doing okay, it can be easy to forget that they still need your input. Be sure to give them attention—ask “where are the spaces I can show up for you?”
End of summer planning
As the summer draws to an end and school is about to start, it’s important to help your children prepare for the upcoming transitions. Talk about and practice transitions from summer to school. Work on getting up early, walking to school or to the bus stop, finding the classroom in the school. These activities empower the parents, teachers and the child.
And most of all, pray for the teachers and your children throughout the school year.
RESOURCES FROM TODAY’S SHOW
Catie’s Instagram – This High Calling
Out of Sync Child – helps children with sensory issues
Foster the Future – in Alabama, helping with early screening for kids in foster care to help teachers and parents (occupational therapy)
Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) – also has short videos to help teachers and others understand kids from hard places
IEP – Individualized Education Plan – special education strategies to help your child learn the way they learn best
TBRI – Trust Based Relational Interaction
ISP – Individual Service Plan – for foster care – the whole team involved in making plans for family
The TFI Story
Who Loves Series
Find a TFI Advocate Near You
Become a TFI Advocate
Hopefully, this episode has helped you right where you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal. If you enjoyed it, will you tell others?
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Meet Our Guest
Catie Lumpkin is a lover of her family and an advocate for children and families in crisis. She and her husband, Jamie, believe the call to enter into the broken world of orphan care is not simply the call of caring for and adopting children, but to stand in the gap for the system, the workers, the judges, the lawyers, and the biological family. God’s grace has allowed Jamie and Catie to walk with many families who have been impacted by Child Protective Services as the families have begun to experience restoration and true Gospel transformation, realizing God can bring beauty from ashes.
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