Foster care transportation tips
Written by HopSkipDrive
When it comes to transporting students to and from school and other extracurricular activities and appointments, HopSkipDrive understands the importance of secure, comfortable and consistent transportation. This is especially true for students from particularly vulnerable groups, including students currently living with foster families.
For a student like this, a positive foster care transportation experience does a lot more than just help them start their day on the right foot. It enables them to attend their school of origin, arrive at school relaxed and ready to learn, and partake in the same activities and opportunities as their peers. Reliable transportation can create a sense of steadiness in their lives, even as their circumstances at home change.
In this article, we’re offering up five transportation tips that are focused on providing a predictable experience for students who are currently living in foster care.
Tip #1: Use a trauma-informed care approach
When transporting students who are under the care of foster families, all drivers — whether legal guardians, carpool drivers, bus drivers or CareDrivers using the HopSkipDrive platform — should know the basics of a trauma-informed care approach.
This includes an understanding that these students may have experienced trauma when they were removed from their family home, separated from siblings or close friends, or placed at a new foster home. In addition, drivers should be informed about challenges foster students may face, and plan the details of a ride accordingly whenever possible.
Even when a driver doesn’t know much about a specific rider, there are plenty of resources available on trauma-informed care, including reading materials, in-person trainings and webinars in various languages.
Working with a student’s foster family is another way to gain more insight into their situation, which will enable anyone working with the student to provide a more positive, trauma-informed experience.
Related: An inside look at foster care transportation
Tip #2: Normalize the little things
A trauma-informed care approach to foster care transportation is essential. But so, too, is giving students in foster care a chance to feel like any other student. It’s important to remain sensitive to their situation while keeping in mind that most students in foster care want what any other child wants: to be treated like every other kid at school, and not feel defined by their current circumstances.
One thing that could help a student in foster care feel comfortable is making small talk about topics the student expresses interest in. Other suggestions include letting the student select music to listen to during the drive, and simply allowing them to act their age.
Related: How students in the foster system experience education differently
Tip #3: Watch for cues
So how, exactly, do you strike an effective balance between using a trauma-informed care approach and providing a “regular,” delightfully unremarkable ride to school? One of the best ways to find that happy medium is to watch carefully for, and follow, a student’s verbal and non-verbal cues.
Like any other children, students living in foster care have bad days and mood swings. Paying attention to demeanor, facial expressions, body language and overall behavior can provide clues to how a child might be feeling in any given moment.
If a rider is talkative, that likely means they’re open to conversation and engagement. If they’re acting reserved, aren’t making eye contact and are quiet, that might be a signal that they need a little space. If they’re absolutely jazzed about a test score, joining the school play or making new friends, offering warm congratulations can enhance the positive vibes.
Tip #4: Steer clear of triggers
While it’s impossible to read anyone's mind, there are steps drivers can take to reduce the risk of accidentally triggering a student who is living in foster care. Unfortunately, some of these triggers may not seem obvious at first.
For example, driving through different parts of town may stir up a wide range of emotions for some foster care students. This is especially true if a specific location is associated with old memories or traumas. One of the best examples of this is driving past a family member’s house, or maybe an old favorite restaurant.
While it might be impossible to know every single area to avoid, one best practice is to simply drive the same route to and from school every day. Doing so will increase the certainty that the route is comfortable for the student.
The same is true about broaching specific topics. Things that might feel ordinary to talk about can trigger challenging feelings and traumatic memories for students living in foster care. For example, talking or thinking about family-centric holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah can stir up difficult emotions. It’s best to avoid these topics altogether. Whenever possible, steer small talk away from anything too personal. This includes broadly discussing family and pets, questions about summer and winter vacations, and more.
Thinking before you speak is required when navigating conversations with kids in foster care. This infographic has some icebreakers to help you get started — just remember to tailor the questions as suggested in this article.
Tip #5: Remember that consistency, empathy and reliability matter
Most people thrive on routine — and children are no exception. Regularity and dependability are even more important for students who’ve experienced trauma from displacement in their childhoods. Anyone entrusted to provide foster care transportation for students plays a crucial role in creating a positive, reliable touchpoint in their daily lives.
Since some foster students move from home to home frequently, their school of origin might be the only constant in their lives. By helping them get to and from that school, foster care transportation is a truly meaningful service that requires attention and care.
When it comes to HopSkipDrive's network of CareDrivers, for example, we understand that the little things can be big. CareDrivers know the importance of a consistent experience, including always arriving at the established pickup time, driving the same route to school, paying attention to ride details to ensure the student’s specific needs are met, and dropping off a Rider in the designated place. This is one of the reasons why CareDrivers must have at least five years of caregiving experience.
Reliable school-of-origin transportation can be a true game-changer for students in foster care. Watch, for example, this video about an 18-year-old foster student who graduated with honors thanks to the reliable school-of-origin transportation her school provided by partnering with HopSkipDrive.
Want to learn more about how HopSkipDrive partners with counties and school districts all over the country to provide a student transportation solution for students in foster care?