This is such a big subject to unpack in a post but hopefully I can do it justice in a few paras.
In my role in the child welfare sector I hear about hundreds of children who are either at risk of coming into care (services are actively supporting parents to keep children at home and safe) or already in care. I hear inspiring stories about principals, teachers and support workers who absolutely act as champions for children who are struggling/suffering in relation to a range of forms of trauma. These schools and key staff do not suspend a child every time there is an incident. They work alongside the child and help him/her to feel safe in the environment.
I am also aware of too many stories of children who are struggling who are stigmatised and discouraged from attending school through back to back suspensions and reduced hours. This becomes the status quo and a few years later the child has zero attendance and, well, the trajectory doesn’t look great.
You, as a carer, will ideally be able to work closely with the school and your agency to set meaningful education plans (required for all children in care in Australia) and work to find ways for the child to have safe people and safe places at school which enables them be able to learn.
My foster daughter is in year 3 and has now been at two schools. The first had good intentions, but really struggled to provide her with a safe learning environment. She struggled to sit still, focus and due the size of the classes and the school (we lived in a densely populated area), she got lost. I was shocked to start hearing CC was stealing, lying, blaming etc in year 1. Not surprising, she was also struggling academically and slipping further and further behind. She also couldn’t seem to increase her friendship circle beyond one other girl (who was lovely).
Due to circumstances, we moved to a different area and hence a different school and CC was transformed by the change. Two years later and CC is in average to above average range for many subjects, has a huge gaggle of girlfriends, loves school, has no behaviours that are worrying and actually stands up for other children when she sees something that she believes is not fair/nice.
Schools should have access to strategies such as ‘Calmer Classrooms’ but really, the key is a culture in the school of not leaving children behind or excluding them due to behaviour.
My take homes about your role to ensure children in your care receive quality care, support and learning at school>
- If a child or young person you care for is stating they do not want to go to school, please unpack or get help to understand what is really going on. Do not settle for ‘s/he just doesnt want to go’. It is our responsibility as adults caring for children to ensure they do receive an education.
- Ask your child’s school what their approach is to support children with trauma eg are teacher’s specifically trained? Do teachers receive additional support in these instances? Note – there are some great FB groups for teachers that want to be trauma informed (encourage teachers to join Facebook groups such as ‘trauma informed educators network’ and podcast ‘trauma informed educators network podcast’).
- Ensure you are part of a meaningful meetings with the school and your agency to ensure the education plan is of use and can be reviewed/adapted.
- If you start hearing blaming language, call it out. Ask instead, I wonder what s/he trying to communicate in terms of an unmet need?
- Try to avoid constantly changing schools unless it is absolutely necessary. It is very difficult for a child to build connections when they keep moving (and this is another form of removal for children in care)
- On the flip-side, if key staff at the school continue to struggle to provide a safe and trauma informed response to a child you care for and you can see a detrimental impact, work first with the school, but if the issues persist, consider if the school is the right school to support healing and learning.
- Be open to alternative school environments if this is a better fit for a child/young person you are caring for.