Wednesday, June 21, 2017


One of our foster children almost, but not quite, likes school.

The rest of them, every single one we've ever had, hated school. More so than our own children, much more so. Probably, if you could put a measurement on it, I'd say foster children have a dislike of going to school that's about 50% greater than the average child.

But they are still subject to the same attendance requirements. 

In fact, because local authorities monitor each and every foster child's school attendance on a daily basis, it's fair to say their attendance is subject not only to greater scrutiny, but because local authorities flag up - to the child's social worker and also the school - what they consider to be  attendance records which should be explained, it's accurate to say that foster children's school attendance is more rigorously enforced than for ordinary pupils.

There's good reason for this is many cases. The child who you wave goodbye to in the morning with their backpack and lunchbox who turns left instead of right when out of sight and simply doesn't show up at school but spends the day mucking around town; that needs to be identified and acted on, for sure.

A child might have a recurring health problem which the foster carer needs help and guidance with, that's another upside to the scrutiny their attendance records are under.

But there's a downside to the stark, naked percentage figure that is used to characterise a foster child's know the number, for example;


To be honest, I'm not clear what is considered ok, I think it's anything above


While anything below


Causes emails to fly around, questions to be asked, concerns to be logged and general harrumphing to take place in various offices.

Numbers. They're so comforting for people who can't see people.

Sometimes children have a sore throat and a cough, sometimes they have been sick in the night. When it's medical it's an easy decision. Sometimes the school will ask if I've taken them to the doctor, not so much because there's any real medical concern (thank you very much, I hope I'd know when a child needs a doctor), but to get some sort of 'expert' validation that the child is unwell so that their absence looks that much more legitimate on the paperwork.

But what to do when life itself creeps up behind them and knocks them for six? Those days when they just cannot face the world, can't face sitting still and quiet and being made to calculate sums and write grammatically correct sentences because their insides are swirling with emotion and their head hurts, not with actual pain but with the torment of things that have happened and are still happening around their poor innocent selves.

There are days when children who have come into care cannot get up the strength to go through the motions in the playground of keeping up appearances with their friends, of tiptoeing around conversations about home life, because they don't want to be reminded they haven't got a home, or seeing all the other children being met by their real parents and they've got a stranger waving at them from behind the railings.

There are days when the mental and emotional health and wellbeing of a foster child is best served by telling them to go back to bed and you'll bring them their breakfast on a tray. 

They usually recognise the occasions when you've said; 'No school for you today' because their lack of wellness isn't medical, it's spiritual. 

I phone the school and tell the truth, in the language they need;

"Jenny had a very distressed night, we're not sure of the exact cause, so we need to make sure she's not sickening for something, so we'll keep her under observation. If her state worsens we'll take her to the doctors, or if necessary A and E. If she recovers you can expect her tomorrow." 

I have even gone so far with the truth as to say:

"Johnny had a dreadful Contact with his parents yesterday after school. His father didn't show up at all or apologise or anything and his mother was late and somewhat the worse for wear. He had to learn that neither of them want him back and that his sister is in hospital after a drugs overdose. He is not well enough on the inside for school today."

I've always, always, found that foster children know what the deal is when I allow a day off for this special and very important healing. The deal is; 

One day off and back to school the next. And let's not have this happen too often. 

There's never been any argument or debate, even though I've never ever had to spell out the deal to them. They get it. They pull themselves together.

They fix their heart and soul all the more easily because they've had it confirmed that in their foster mum they have an ally who is on their side, it's us versus the sometimes grizzly old world.

They learn good stuff about love, hope, friendship, family.

I try to keep the hallowed numbers up. Sometimes I let the child go to school with a runny nose to help balance the books.

I also keep both sets of social workers in the loop. Verbally. They get it; they know and understand better than anyone there are certain days when certain foster children are too wound up to do a good day's schooling.

I know it's a pain for teachers to have to swerve things to help children catch up missed lessons, but that's their job.

We're trying to repair life for a damaged child.

That's our job.

And BTW, if it isn't obvious; a job to be proud of.


  1. Wow . . I was just thinking about those the other day, if special allowances would could or should be made for children in our care. . .I didn't for one moment think that figures would come before the mental and emotional well being of the young people who need more support and understanding than the children from "normal" and in essentially more stable backgrounds!That's terrible ! We are hoping that we can show them it's OK to trust, that they are not a number on a list and that how they feel and cope is important to us, but the policy in education is to put them back in a box and use them
    to tick a box in the name of league tables statistics and policy! Sorry - but it sort of undermines all that The therapeutic value of a trained and professional foster carer . . .arghggghhh!

  2. Thanks for your comments and support with this concern. It's become a bugbear of mine because one of my foster kids always asks, when we talk about maybe having a day off school, about the Attendance Figures. The child is clearly got scared; I know that's not the intention of the procedure but it's the end product for this child and maybe many others. It should be thought through for all children, but especially thought through for foster children.

  3. You are so right in this. After one of my little ones had a terrible experience of school I negotiated flexi schooling with half days only for 6 months- best thing I ever did. She still talks fondly of the flexi days when we made cakes, did yoga, went to the woods and other healing things. Bums on school seats is NOT always the best for our traumatised kids.

  4. Thanks and well done Ros. Pity we can't get flexi days on the curriculum for all looked-after children, not to mention the many others who aren't suited by the regime.

  5. Just found you! Catching up on some reading. Our kids are really lucky as their primary school are really understanding and although weve not done it a lot, we have kept each off at different times. The older one goes to comp in September and Im praying that they have the same understanding (we have been told they 'are good'!!)

  6. Hiya! Sounds like a good primary school alright. Fingers crossed the Comp is up there too.
    Have you seen the M and S TV ad for back to school? It's a beauty. The camera follows a little fellow in school uniform walking in the street alone with lots of older bigger kids around him smiling and laughing. He's looking apprehensive. Then he stops at a big gate and looks up. It's his big new secondary school. We hear his voice say to himself:
    "I've got this". And in he goes. Brings a lump to yer throat every time so it does. Hope your eldest has the same bottle. They need it.