Involving foster children in extracurricular activities

By Abdul Seraaj

Edited by Intisar Seraaj-Sabree

extracurricular activitiesParticipation in extracurricular activities is a part of a child’s wellbeing due to its therapeutic benefits. Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. (SFH) has a long history of encouraging and supporting children, especially children in foster care, to participate in extracurricular activities.

Positive experiences and early successes during childhood have a significantly positive impact during an individual’s adulthood. A child’s participation in organized extracurricular activities has a significantly positive impact on their overall psychological wellbeing and self-esteem. Extracurricular activities include sports such as football or volleyball, afterschool and during school clubs/organizations like theatre or dance, community organizations like the Boys & Girls Club or YMCA, holiday or seasonal camps, etc. Participation in extracurricular activities allows a child the opportunity to master a variety of life skills necessary to produce continuous positive results. Therefore, we need to encourage and help children to maintain a life full of individual, group, community, and organizational achievements through their participation in extracurricular activities. This will encourage emotional and social stability into adulthood.

Many children in foster care have not had an opportunity to participate in organized extracurricular activities due to the effects of neglect, abuse, behavioral challenges, placement disruptions, and dysfunctional family systems. Extracurricular activities should be viewed as a clinical, holistic, and therapeutic intervention tool for human service professionals. These professionals should include extracurricular activities in a foster child’s individualized service plan and treatment plan, because they tend to be more fun, more engaging, and more motivating for a child than traditional counseling and therapy sessions.

There are many developmental skill sets and lifelong lessons that children learn as a result of participating in extracurricular activities, including socialization, sportsmanship, teamwork, responsibility, and work ethics. These activities can also teach children how to navigate difficult social situations, cooperation, and how to establish rapport with authority figures. Authority figures such as coaches in these activities become lifelong positive role models and motivational mentors within the children’s lives.

Accomplishments in extracurricular activities are achieved through continuous personal improvement and continuous contribution beyond yourself. Children take pride in accomplishing these new skills, and their overall self-image greatly improves. However, consistent participation in these activities should depend on a child’s academic grades, and school and home behaviors. These requirements can serve as a positive motivator for the child.

There is research to support the positive effects that participation in extracurricular activities has on children, especially for severely traumatized children. Research done by Armstrong and Drabman (2004) addresses the hypothesis that improving a child’s sports performance will lead to an increase in self-confidence and greater peer acceptance. To test this, they developed a program, in which boys trained in a specific sport to improve their skills. Then, the boys were placed in a position where they could display their improvements in front of their teammates. An association between improvements in sports performance and an increase in positive social interactions emerged (Armstrong & Drabman, 2004).

Brants and Goodway (1966) researched the impact of team sports on urban, at-risk children who had known aggressive behaviors and poor problem-solving skills. It was concluded that team sports builds competence and improves children’s self-esteem. Team sports are physically engaging, goal-oriented, and requires children to use their higher mental functioning skills, and teaches planning skills and impulse control.

In Omaha, Nebraska, SHF staff members were trained on how to advocate for children in foster care to be given a court order to participate in an extracurricular activity rather than be put in juvenile detention centers. An extracurricular activity would serve as a form of treatment for children with behavior problems and impulse control issues.

SFH continues to train and educate its staff members and foster parents about the importance of incorporating extracurricular activities into the daily lives of children. SFH also tracks each foster child’s participation in extracurricular activities, and strives to improve its ability connect foster children with positive extracurricular community-based activities.