May is Foster Care Awareness Month and as a former foster parent, the importance of bringing awareness to our community is one that is both personally and professionally close to my heart. At the time of this article, there are currently 4,044 infant, children, and youth in South Carolina’s child welfare system. Of those in care, 2,185 are between the ages of 3-21 years old and are walking the halls of our schools as they try and navigate instability at home with the daily expectations of their educational journey.

As South Carolina’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI), we have a specific focus on special populations and how we can work closely with caregivers and stakeholders to ensure children in foster care are receiving the educational services and supports they are eligible for, that they have a say in their education plans, and that there are no gaps in service provision due to the highly mobile nature of systems involvement. In order to meet the needs of  the children and families in care and the  professionals who support them, Family Connection and  SC Department of Social Services (SC DSS) created an intentional partnership that enables us to enhance prevention practices, support the maintenance of family connections,  increase SC DSS staff knowledge of special education systems navigation, and improve overall well-being and permanency by strengthening the ability of the birth/foster/kinship/parents/caregivers and SCDSS staff to participate fully in the education of their children at school and at home.

Over the last 5 years, Family Connection has trained 939 foster parents , alongside 82 SC DSS staff, and has provided 51 workshops statewide.

As a parent of children with special education needs and a (former) foster parent who walked the often overwhelming steps of advocating for children’s needs in care, I truly believe the value of this work will continue to result in less disrupted placements, higher educational achievements, and positive outcomes for one of our state’s most vulnerable populations.