“72% of those adopted in 2013-14 entered care due to abuse or neglect. Their needs do not change just because they are in a loving home. Their experiences in early life can have a lasting impact which can affect the child many years after adoption. We therefore believe that teachers and schools have a vital role to play in helping these children emotionally, socially and educationally by providing specific support, to raise their attainment and address wider needs.” (DfE, 2014)
Looked-after children (LAC) are those who are in care of a local authority. Previously looked-after children (PLAC) are those who immediately after being in care became subject to an adoption order, child arrangement order or special guardianship order (SGO).
Adopted and looked-after children are one of the most vulnerable groups. Research demonstrates they experience higher rates of social, emotional and mental health needs that any other group. Academic achievement can also be severely impacted. Fewer LAC and PLAC pupils achieve age-related expectations compared with their peers and are much more likely to be excluded from school.
Adopted and looked-after children often experience a number of moves of home, sometimes unplanned and without their siblings, which disrupts their life in context of their place in a family. Remember LAC children have already faced additional challenges and experienced difficult issues prior to them becoming looked-after. Placement moves also affect schooling and learning; all changes of school are difficult, but for a child who is LAC or PLAC they are coping with new family placements as well.
As teachers, how then can we support these pupils?
- Use the term ‘birth’ parents rather than ‘real’ parents to avoid implying that adoptive parents are not ‘real’;
- Check your curriculum and think about areas which may cause difficulty; for example, family trees, mother’s/father’s days, or baby photos;
- Communicate with carers and foster parents. Remember that a parent of an older adopted child may not have come into contact with schools as a parent – they are suddenly dealing with instant parenthood, maybe of more than one child;
- Liaise with the designated teacher to ensure educational targets within the pupil’s Personal Education Plan are implemented fully;
- Don’t assume a child’s prior attainment gives a true picture of potential;
- Understand that relationships are the main motivator, not the threat of punishment or reward;
- Be aware of the moves a child has had, both in care and in school and understand the impact this may have had on their ability to trust adults;
- Don’t cap aspirations, seek ways to support;
- Carefully manage the transition from one class to another;
- Be aware that adopted and looked-after children want to be treated in the same way as everyone else, so the support and awareness needs to be ongoing, but may need to be in the background.
For many pupils who are LAC and PLAC, Social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) is both their primary need and main barrier to learning. Other SEN needs are also more prevalent, including: speech, language and communication needs; attention/concentration difficulties; developmental delay; and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
This blog was written by Bretta Townend-Jowitt, Education Consultant and Trainer.
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