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It affects us all: Foster care kids lose out on learning

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- They say education is the key to freedom and sometimes we learn more from mistakes.

If that’s true, college student and new mom Ieshia Mason is hoping her difficult foster care journey might serve as a lesson.

Her story begins as a 15-year-old student at Washington High School in South Bend.

Mason says she was a trouble maker, always running away from home.

It happened so many times that child welfare became involved to find out why she was trying to escape.

Mason says her biological mom was abusing drugs and was always angry and lashing out. She suffered physical and verbal abuse and says she was molested by an older sibling.

Department of Child Services removed her from the home, but finding her a safer one came with different challenges.

The closest available foster family was in Lakeville nineteen miles away.

The town has a smaller population than the total number of students enrolled at Washington High.

It wasn’t anything like what she was used to.

She calls the transition to LaVille Jr.-Sr. High School a culture shock.

“It was a good school, don’t get me wrong. The teachers were good, it was just different. I was the only minority out there so it was very challenging,” says Mason.

Mason says school was already hard for her with everything going on at home, but the transition made it even more difficult.

“At school it was very hard to focus, to stay on task,” says Mason.

A foster child’s success is directly correlated with consistency. Especially consistency in the classroom, according to DCS Director of Education Services Melaina Gant.

“Education is a right to every child, educational stability and continuity is incredibly important,” says Gant.

SBCSC Social Worker Jill Thornton agrees.

“I think that is probably key. It’s crucial. They are around the teacher they had before, the students they know, the classroom they know. This would be one place where there is stability,” says Thornton.

Congress passed amendments to the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ in 2016 that expanded the government’s role in public education.

They were specifically written to address the needs of children in the foster care system by facilitating more collaboration between the schools and DCS.

“The main requirement is that we should both be working together to meet the needs of every child. But, if we can get more foster parents on board then this whole conversation is moot,” says Gant.

The new guidelines address the issue of foster children being moved out of their home school district. Which is why Ieshia had such a hard time back in 2012.

Nine months after moving to Lakeville, a foster mother finally became available in South Bend.

Ieshia says they immediately bonded and she gave her the sense of normalcy she was missing.

“Her love for her kids, it was absolutely amazing. She just wanted to make sure that I would be comfortable in the setting that I was in,” says Mason.

Mason was able to go back to school and learn at her own pace. At 19, she graduated. She credits that to the love and support of her foster mom and the social workers she met along the way.

“All of the people were just amazing and their attitudes towards me, it was just great. And just seeing how happy they were doing what they’re doing it made me want to,” says Mason.

Now, she’s in school studying to become a social worker herself and see other kids succeed.

“They could be like hitting their rock bottom and I see them reach the top so I really like that,” says Mason.

She says that she plans to fostering kids in the future. And hopes more people to open their homes, too.

“The way you feel loving and nurturing that child, it’s the best feeling anyone could ever have.

I saw it. I watched the kids fill up from the love and nurture. But, I also saw my mom get filled just from loving the kids too,” says Mason.

For a list of resources related to the opioid crisis, including information about how you can become a foster parent click here.

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