Tuesday, September 29, 2015

FOSTERING AND THE SCHOOL

Fostering is hard enough without having to ensure the child's education.

The simple fact that the child is in Care means there are problems. The child might be 100% a fine individual, but they are still carrying the confusing, frightening, de-stabilising burden of being taken away from their home. It hardly matters how bad home life is; a child is attached to mum and dad, and now the biggest familiar in their lives is shattered.

And the state seems to have a fixation that everything will be better for them if they spend the very next day getting no marks for decimals and "Poor work See me" for verbs.

Ever tried doing simple things when your mind is in turmoil? I can't open a tin of beans without cutting myself. I get in the car and go to start the engine with the front door key. I get up on a Saturday morning and start preparing lunch boxes. The 'turmoil' in my life might be something powerful (to me) but probably doesn't compare with what a looked-after child is going through.

So they don't want to go in; not just on the first day in care, but most children on every day. And not just because they'll get it reflected back to them that they're under-achievers, but maybe because some cruel kid in the playground will give it to them that their family is broken.

Ever tried telling the authorities that child in Care might need a break from school? You might just as well ask if it's okay for them to go shoplifting to pay for their crack. What!? Non-attendance? But it's the Tudors this term!! The authorities send in the armed forces.

I found out that private companies are hired by LAs to snoop looked after-children's school attendance. According to what I was told, they phone every looked-after child's school EVERY DAY to check you've sent the kid in. I know what you're thinking; I was gobsmacked too.

And if the child's attendance is considered low, it's not a case of 'Oh dear, the child's needs must be assessed and met, perhaps having to attend school is worsening her problems", it's a case of "This child MUST be got back to school".

Why? Statistics. OFSTED must be placated.

Is there no-one, of no matter how high or low their basic intelligence, however sensitive or blinkered  and driven by raw dogma, no-one who can see that if a child needs a break from their family they might use a break from school?

If foster parents are good enough to house them and take over their hierarchy of needs according to those needs, then frankly bolting on some appropriate education at home is as easy as ensuring there's ketchup on the table compared with cooking an evening meal for several disparate people.

Compared to fostering, educating children is a cakewalk.

I've yet to meet a looked-after child whose educational needs went beyond what I could do for them; they are almost always; a) behind their classmates - despite sometimes having good intelligence, b) dead set against going in (resistance every morning) c) made even more unhappy by a day at school.

I'm not blaming teachers; their job is often made harder by the presence of a troubled child in the group, and they have a resonsibility to the other 29 in the class. Or 39, depending on your post code.

Looked-after children need to be monitored, and schools have a role there; they are vigilant if a child turns up looking harassed, beleagured, bruised, underfed, exhausted, frightened. Children in fostering must be subject to the same third-party scrutiny and that's one reason why social workers turn up at your home. Blue Sky even do an 'Unannounced Visit' scheme where someone turns up out of the blue (no pun) to check the child is getting what they're seen to get whenever the social worker turns up for the regular house visits.

There is something child-like, in my view, about what appears to be a belief that if a child is taken away from their family and put in another home, we can cast a voodoo spell of artificial continuity by making sure they turn up at the same school the next day. 

I had a looked-after child, school was crushing him. His class teacher was a spit away from retiring and going through the motions, used to like to creep up behind male pupils and catch them doing something so she could give them a crack on the head with her red biro. The child didn't want to go in every day to find out yet again he was stupid (his words for it). 

I kept him home for a bit. The private company reported me to the LA and they sent a delegation. Big meeting, in the school, with me, the delegation and about five teaching staff. The top and bottom line was; the child must go back in, and it was stressed it was my job to get him there. I wanted to say "Why don't you try showing up for a week at 7.30am and see what it does to him?'

Anyway, at the end of the meeting, I asked the leader of the delegation, friendly like, how things were going at their office and he dropped his guard: "Nightmare" he said, looking towards the other teachers; "We're expecting OFSTED any moment". There was this eerie collective sympathetic sigh among the professionals.

I got it, what their priorities were.

I got the kid back to school too, but a different school. How did I manage that? The school failed it's OFSTED, about 3 weeks after the meeting.  Got graded; "Special measures" - the equivilant of "Unmarkable Paper" in exams. The school had indeed been failing the child, only now it was official not just a foster carer's judgement.

I'm sorry for the school and the staff, sorry for the pupils, sorry for my looked-after child - who, by the way, is now flourishing at the different school so the grapevine tells me.

And I have, in my back pocket a piece of paper on which I've written the words "I told you so" which one day I might deliver to that delegation. I don't get to be 100% right often, not where I end up with concrete proof, but I was right to keep that child at home for a bit.

That child needed a break from school; especially that particular school.

Looked-after children should get dispensation from standard attendance requirements, provided that dispensation is supported by the child, by social workers and the child's foster parents. The abscence should not damage the school's attendance record.

There's a precedent: we don't wheel them into school in their sickbeds if they have the flu. Being incapacitated due to illness is a valid reason. So is being incapacitated due to emotional trauma.





4 comments:

  1. Schools often try their best but they really don't get it, especially the need for children with severe trauma to be treated with the extra care they need.

    That said, we’re having almost the opposite problems - the general low expectations for "LAC" - kids being in school, in uniform and not pregnant/disruptive seems to be enough to keep the LAC officer happy! Our kids aren’t challenged on performance and get away with being lazy and rude because they are LAC.

    We’re working on it – Our bright spark (who I’ve mentioned before) found it very funny that her new teacher was visibly stunned when I shared the childs very high SAT scores.

    I hope you’re able to get the school on board, I hope he gets a teacher who understands him, who praises the small successes - like just being there, and being engaged in class.

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  2. You're right, they don't get it, which is better than neither caring nor trying. I wonder whether anyone outside fostering gets it.
    Your bright spark sounds an interesting placement alright. If I may say so I sense a lot of care and even a good deal of pride in the child, which I suspect the child notices and benefits from enormously; well done, brilliant work.

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  3. Our young person has been with us for 4 months, he arrived in June and should have bee in year 6 at school, bad time to start a new school. His social worker was desperate for him to start school before the summer holidays, but thankfully none of the local schools would take him. So he had 3 months of being at home with us, to settle in and find his feet before starting secondary school in September. He has found the last month hard, but as hard as it would have been otherwise.

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  4. I'm grateful for your observations Precious Gem, I hope your young person is going to be well and happy, and I hope you are feeling good about your work.

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