Friday, 24 January 2014

School and the looked after child

Looked after children (or children in care) are much less likely to achieve academically than children who are not looked after. This can be for a multitude of reasons, for example - lack of early stimulation, several school moves, attachment difficulties, missing a lot of school before they came into care - but in most cases is due at least in part to heightened anxiety levels. A five year old has recently been told that the family finders are looking for an adoptive family for him, a 15 year old living in a children's home is worrying about moving out to live independently when she reaches 16, an eight year old who's just come into care is concerned about whether his drug addicted parents can look after themselves without him, an 11 year old still expects a beating from his foster father after school because he thinks that's what all adults do, a seven year old doesn't yet trust that her foster parents are going to give her enough food every day and hides her school lunch in case she's hungry later, a 10 year old has just found out that his younger siblings are going to be adopted without him…

Put very simply - when a child has such high anxiety levels they are unable to concentrate on school work because it isn't important to them.

There are obviously exceptions, and children in stable long term foster placements are statistically likely to do better than those who move around which is great news for Peter as we're now moving towards permanency for him.

We've been working for the last few months on lowering Peter's anxiety levels by building up trust, and his progress is really clear to see. We love his school, and we're very grateful that he was able to get a place to start this term, but we've definitely seen his anxiety levels rise as he's in a new environment (again) and doesn't know what to expect. He's testing the boundaries and we've been told of several behaviours that would be unacceptable at home but his teachers just laughed about!

I'm sure it can be difficult, especially as it's a school without much experience of looked after children, for the teachers to distinguish between behaviours that are related to Peter's additional needs, typical behaviours for a 4 year old, and those related to his early life experiences and more recent upheaval. It certainly is for us! We just need to try to work together to make sure he's supported so that he can achieve to the best of his ability. He's a bright little boy and we're very proud of him!

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