Getting the Best for Adopted Children in School

So, I was at the PAC-UK / Yorkshire & Humber Conference (Being Family) on Monday about Getting the Best for Adoption Children in School. ¬†Can I stress that these are only my notes (with my views in blue) there may be errors and omissions. Please don’t hold me to account! ūüôā

It was a packed agenda where a selection of Social Workers, Adopters and Schools¬†from the Y&H region were invited to attend. ¬†There was reasonable attendance from all areas, although I would have liked to have seen more from schools if I’m honest.

Being Family Logo https://adoptmum.wordpress.com

Even if you are not in Yorkshire & Humber, I hope there are some nuggets¬†in here that everyone would find helpful or provide hope of this type of support eventually becoming more widespread across all schools and Local Authorities! ¬†I’ve attempted to give the highlights.

Mick Gibbs, Chair of Regional Adoption Board began with some comments, most notably a mention that

Instead of School Inclusion and Exclusion,  think about School Attachment

Contrary to popular belief, care does make things better

Next up Sir Martin Narey.  He talked about adoption changes over the years and the number of myths surrounding adoption and breakdowns.  He said adopters were not treated well but that the process for recruitment has changed to improve that. There are still significant challenges with time taken for matching, behaviour of courts and the support fund being only available for one year. Personally, I believe we are still not treated well, we are still not respected and recognised as being a powerful force that can create a change in these children.

The issues are schooling can be solved quite easily with few changes because the issues do not disappear overnight.

There is nothing else like adoption for the ability to transform a life.

Sir Narey said that he is happy to be contacted by email and he attempts to answer every one received!

Education: from Rainbows to Reality

logopacukPAC-UK’s Chief Exec, and their refreshingly straight talking Education Psychologist Emma Gore Langton talked about there being a disconnect at all levels that there is a misguided view that adoption is ‘lovely’. Key things were that

  • Brain structure changes our view of the world – all this we know. ¬†(We do! ¬†I’m not sure everyone knows, certainly not all schools and educators).
  • A teacher will hold on to information about a child in misunderstood ‘confidentiality’. (They do! ¬†I’ve experienced that more than once much to the¬†detriment of my children!)
  • Schools are anxious about parents’ expectations, so they don’t communicate. ¬†There is particular difficulty in secondary schools. ¬†(Really? ¬†I agree they don’t communicate, agree secondary schools are particularly difficult. ¬†I’ve heard schools saying “we deal with in school” which may be a bigger reason for not communicating. ¬†I’ll give this the benefit of doubt!)
  • On exclusions, no real data but Adoption UK Survey said
    • more than 50% were at secondary schools
    • 1 in 5 children were age 6 or younger
    • there is serious impact on the most vulnerable children.
  • Education is a key reason for seeking post adoption support (true for me!)
  • Transition from primary to secondary increases stress on families according to Selwyn report. (absolutely! ¬†It has nearly broken my family)
  • Curriculum issues can trigger crisis (yes, and schools will not listen)
  • There is a DFE grant for schools in the Y&H region to become Attachment Aware. (Brilliant!)

Pupil Premium

Alan Clifton, The Virtual Head from North Yorkshire talked about Pupil Premium and even though I thought I knew lots about Pupil Premium he had some interesting perspectives.

There are 152 Local Authorities across the country and all have a Virtual School Head (VSH) responsible for Looked After Children (this is statutory now). That means that there are 152 ways to allocate Pupil Premium and it’s uses! ¬†DFE Guidance (from 2009) says “it is good practice for adopted children to be monitored”.

  • All adopters should find out who your local Virtual Head is.
  • Personal Education Plans (PEPs) are a good monitoring tool (although not statutory) but¬†helpful for progress, attainment, outcomes, relationships and even friendships, because it should cover Social and Emotional Wellbeing too. ¬†You can get a sample PEP from your VSH or from him (Alan Clifton).
  • Pupil Premium money is NOT ring-fenced for your adopted child. ¬†Schools can pool PP money for staffing, tracking, nurture groups etc.
  • You should work with the school to identify
    • barriers to learning,
    • specific learning needs,
    • how to ensure your child progresses
    • your child’s feelings¬†(that’s a big one for me, I find teachers talk ‘at’ rather than listen to my child)
  • The key thing is relationships! (Absolutely right, this is what is missing in their early lives and as human beings we all need those relationships, our children need them more so.)

A Special School’s Approach

There was a really lovely presentation by a Leeds special school about the work they did with a particularly troubled child.  They had some training from Family Futures and talked about what helped and what worked.

  • Key Needs are Communication, Consistency and Care.
  • Provide choices
  • Model behaviour, explain what that behaviour should look like and what it means.
  • Set limits and explain expectations
  • Be specific with wording (rather than “well done”, say “I really liked how you lined up”)
  • Pick your battles
  • Address the child’s sensory needs
  • Be aware of anxiety and stress

The most valuable resource?  HIS PARENTS! and the Adoption Social Worker.

(I wanted to jump for joy when they said parents were most valuable resource, because I, and many of us, feel we are ignored or not listened to. ¬†Yet there still seems to be a lack of understanding that we don’t all have social workers any more or any other professional support!)

Adopter Experiences

From the wonderful ladies Sarah, The Adoption Social and Amanda, The Open Nest.

Amanda and Sarah said everything I wished I was able to say! ¬†Both highlighting the inability to work when we have adopted children who struggle with life and school. ¬†Sarah mentioned there has been perhaps 3 weeks this year when both children have been in school “where they should be”. ¬†It is a full time job being “on call” for school so she can bring her child home. ¬†(Oh yes, I know that approach!)

Many adopters talk about schools trying to “force a square peg into a round hole”. ¬†(I wanted to stand up a cheer at this point! ¬†That’s exactly what I have been saying!)

Sarah went on to say that our children have a right to an education and they way they are treated does not help our children’s self esteem.

Can schools please find some square holes for our children?

Amanda explained about her issues with 3 different schools by the time Jazz was 8 years old before resorting to a version of Home Education. ¬†Highlighting that there are big groups of adopters who home education because they feel they have no choice. ¬†(I know! ¬†I’m been close to¬†that many times.)

If you do feel you have to Home Education, ensure your child stays on the school register so that you still have links and can hope to progress to a slow integration back into school.  Amanda had the same teacher at home for 10 hours and then the same at school.

It is useful to have some days at home as Therapy Days so families can invest in that time and reduce school stressors, work on attachment and have calm down time. ¬†(Whoop, whoop Amanda. ¬†That’s exactly what I arranged for Biggey last month. ¬†Although, it only happened because school said they can’t cope!)

When Amanda talked about friendship issues and the fact that “sometimes the only people at birthday parties were the teachers” there was a big ahhh all around me. ¬†Will it be enough to create a change though? ¬†I¬†certainly hope so.

There’s more. ¬†That will have to follow in blog part 2. ¬†For now, I’m linking up with #WASO.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Will My L.A. Help Adopted Children in Schools?

Last October, on the back of the marvellous work by @garethmarr as detailed in his blog , I tweeted my Local Authority and asked if they would do something about helping Adopted Children in schools. Surprisingly, I got a response asking me to come along and see what the Virtual Head was doing. Sounds great, although slightly puzzling because I hadn’t¬†heard of anything happening.

The meeting didn’t get fixed for ages but I remained hopeful and eventually met in February 2015 for the first meeting. ¬†I went along with a fellow adopter from our local support group and there was the Virtual Head, Director of Children’s Services and the Head of Adoption Support too.

Reason for Meeting

I positioned my reason for asking to meet. Explaining that at our support group, every time we meet there are school issues raised, that individual adopters are going into schools to teach and train the staff, which works quite well, providing the adopter has enough knowledge, feels comfortable doing that and that school will allow us in!  I asked explained that we then have to continue to go in year on year to update, starts again with next member of staff, or whatever.  Is also expressed how difficult it is do this when the child goes to secondary schools (as I have experienced) because there are so many teachers and members of staff and in any event, the schools are reluctant to let you in.

I mentioned Gareth’s success in his LA and I asked if it was possible for this LA to work with us to look at using training and pupil premium money to cascade down something more helpful at has a longer term impact. ¬†I ¬†also highlighted (as we all know) that this will have a positive impact on our children in the school. ¬†I gave the usual Pupil Premium spiel, that the government recognises these children need additional help etc etc.

Hurdles

There was some discussion about how difficult it was to identify adopters because our LA do not place within the authority. I asked them to use the school census to begin to identify, to also use their adopter records along with records that could potentially be found from the support groups. There was also a suggestion about promoting things via Twitter and other places to encourage adopters to get in touch.  (Tick, one hurdle dealt with).

 

The Initial Outcome

By the end of that meeting, they were going to take it forward and agreed to do a few things:

  • Look at gathering information about adopters,
  • Look at the available funding from pupil premium
  • Look at some sort of central training across the authority
  • Get message out to Head Teachers

We asked to meet again in a couple of months to review the situation. ¬†It was step in the right direction, yet I wasn’t about to start singing and dancing about it yet!

The Follow Up

We met again in middle of April and I wasn’t feeling that hopeful. My contacts in schools had not particularly heard anything and we had not seen any information about contacting adopters. ¬†However, it was better than I thought!

They had done quite a bit of work and

  • Have been in touch with other nearby Local Authorities to see what they are doing and share information
  • They have identified how many adopted children there are in each school.
  • Looked at some case studies (in addition to the ones recently released by BAAF).
  • Looked at what training was available
  • Looked at providing information to schools.
I explained that there are a number of booklets, leaflets and helpful documents around that could be used for this.  (I probably have copies of all of them so will be sending them those soon!)

Latest Situation

By the end of this meeting there is

  • Identify an adoption lead in each school (probably the one responsible for Looked After Children, as it would make sense to extend their role)
  • Provide training to schools and the Adoption Support Team. ¬†This is looking at providing training in schools, rather than having staff go outside of school and outside working hours (as I had said that relies on them being willing to that).
  • Raise the profile of how staff talk to children has a huge impact
  • Explain how the usual shame-based sanctions are so detrimental.
  • Brief all Head Teachers and Governors at the next LA briefing session
  • Put together a “working party” to develop an information booklet of guidance to schools where my fellow adopter and I will be part of this, along with (a very good) Ed Psych and others.
  • Extend PEP (Personal Education Plans) to all children which will be reviewed termly.
  • Have Pupil Passports for all adopted children
  • The Director of Children’s Services is also going to come along to a meeting of the local Adoption Support Group!
So, quite a productive meeting and more work and meetings still in the pipeline.
It’s good that they are keeping me involved. ¬†At times though, I do get slightly peeved that I am doing all this as an voluntary adviser. ¬†I do also wonder if any of it will ever by effectively in place in time for my children. ¬†Yet, I keep going, living in hope of better support, better provision for all adoptive children so that it has a positive impact on the parents too and reduce the #adoptionschoolstrain.
Now, where do I send the bill for being a consultant advisor????

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Could Change be Coming?

It’s been pretty rough in the Safe House. ¬†Actually it’s been like this since September if I’m honest. ¬†That wonderful school I’ve blogged about this time last year in So Far So Good¬†and Headteacher Calling decided, in their wisdom, to just put Biggey into mainstream school last September, without word or warning to me or her.

It all went off the scale then with lots of unpleasant phone calls and meetings and people thinking she “just needed to make the right choices” and she was displaying “chosen behaviour“. ¬†With a meeting where I was advised that she “just needs to follow 3 rules”. ¬†¬†I can’t remember those rules now, she was never going to manage them anyway !!!!

I need to talk to you about her behaviour

I then spent ages giving them information about her background, how it affects these type of children, etc etc. ¬†They cried. ¬†It was all pointless, though because that meeting was followed by almost daily phone calls from a Head of Year saying “I need to talk to you about her behaviour”. ¬†I responded with “she has a Statement of Needs for – BEHAVIOUR”. ¬†It all got very difficult and tense so I stopped answering my phone to her calls, since they weren’t listening anyway and it was beginning to feel intimidating. ¬†The result, was her exclusion!

More difficulties, yet in short, I got her back into the supportive unit in school, had meetings with Head, Deputies, SENCO, etc, etc. ¬†A wide variety of people have been involved to be honest, and that’s a problem in itself. ¬†The Ed Psych in Feb advised Biggey should have no more changes and some other helpful things. ¬†They didn’t get passed on to the people on the ground dealing with her on daily basis (not very helpful at all).

We’ve had her making false allegations that I hit her (cos she didn’t want to come home and face me after a bad day at school). ¬†We’ve had CAMHS involved, supposedly helping her with anger (nothing helpful or different to what I had already put in place and so no change in her at all).

Fight, Flight, Freeze

We now have school ringing or texting me every day with updates. ¬†She is aggressive, she leaves school site frequently, or sits in classroom and refuses to move so they have to empty other pupils from the room! ¬†Can you recognise the Fight, Flight, Freeze responses here? Yes? ¬†Sadly, they can’t.

There’s been minuscule progress with school working with me using strategies, tactics and ways of speaking to her to begin to be helpful, but it is not consistent and across the board. ¬†So every bit of progress we make, someone comes along and undoes it! ¬†She is really struggling in school and, needless to say, takes it out on me at home.

This week, culminating over this weekend, we just haven’t been able to calm her down at all and my goodness she REALLY HATES ME! ¬†She has definitely got me, Safe Mum, confused with the Birth Mum.

She wants to leave. ¬†Just like many other weekends, bit by bit we cancelled everything that was going to happen this weekend. ¬†It wasn’t much, horse riding for her, walk the dog, go out for tea maybe, buy some arsenic (just kidding). ¬†We have pretty much barricaded ourselves in the house and dealt, blow by painful blow, with her fight response; all to no avail.

It had escalated to another level

Whilst hubby and I were both trying to do small tasks around the house, him gardening, me cooking and cleaning up in kitchen, she came at me with the floor mop and attacked me with it.  It was like gladiator games but it really hurt.    This was more than screaming, shouting, hitting, punching and throwing.  It had escalated to another level.

So this afternoon, I rang social services. ¬†I’ve had enough. ¬†If this was my husband who was being so violent and abusive I would have left him by now. ¬†If I leave her I will be failing her as a parent. ¬†If I let her run away, I still have to get her home and be her responsible parent.

Whilst the man at end of phone asked me what had been happening, I explained we had cancelled everything, all doors locks to prevent her running. ¬†He said, “oh, did you have visitors planned or something?”. ¬†“NO” I said. ¬†“These days¬†they only visitors we have are police and social workers.”

He laughed.

He bloody laughed.

I’d been quite composed til then. ¬†I let rip.

“Did he really think that I was just some pathetic parent who’d had a bit of a rough hour here and there? ¬†Did he stop to think that here am I, plucking up the courage, on a Sunday afternoon, to ring an Out of Hours provider, to ADMIT that I want and need help? ¬†That I really want to tell people that my daughter is out of control, that she frightens me? ¬†None of this is funny – not in the slightest.”

I demanded an apology and some reasonable amount of professionalism from him.

We have a social worker coming tomorrow – apparently. ¬†We shall see (I bet they don’t respond that quick). ¬†I wonder what they will do. ¬†I wonder what they will propose. ¬†What great ideas they will come up with or advise. ¬†Maybe change is coming. ¬†Maybe it’s a change she thinks she wants, yet has she any idea at all?

Biggey, still wants to leave ………..  She has packed a bag.

We Have a Plan

I went along to the meeting with the Senco at a prospective new school for biggey. I’d had the local authority email a copy of her statement across beforehand so that she could peruse and hopefully be informed before the meeting.

The welcome into school was friendly and I already felt welcome (rather than an inconvenience as I have experienced elsewhere), so that was a good start. Mrs Senco was on time, had booked a meeting room and apologised for having to “wade” through the pupils on their break!

We went through the busy throng in the canteen area of kids being kids, chatting, laughing, pushing a bit, eating toast but generally seeming to be enjoying school life. Mrs Senco turned to me and said “I guess this would be difficult for your girl”!!!!!

Oh yes, absolutely. I like this lady already.

At the meeting room she positioned herself beside me, rather than across the table from me which I found to be a nice touch. I got all my paperwork out and I had prepared quite a list of things that I feel I would need. The first and most important for me was communication (since it was none existent in other school). Straight away she gave me assurance of different methods of communicating, email contacts, home school book discussed, and main reception will always try and find someone, yet she would be the main contact – no passing off to anyone else.

Yes, we’ve heard all this before and this time I was able to challenge a couple of aspects yet also put the information into context of what I had already experienced in making the appointments and having been in the school a couple of times already. I did get a better feel that I could believe what she said would happen.

Next, support. Straight away she said, quite honestly, that it will be difficult to assign an attachment figure or two because if Biggey came now it would be part way through the year. That’s said, she did not completely rule out being able to do something helpful from how until summer and then sort it better from September. Also said would identify a safe place for Biggey in school and provide her with photos and names of all TA’s and relevant people.

OMG ! YOU GET IT!! I managed not to jump up and kiss her at this point. Whilst containing those feeling I also managed to contains own self berating ones about why I didn’t choose this school before. So, (hopefully still outwardly looking composed) I raised something else on my list and she already had thought of that, and the next, and the next. All before I had to ask. Amazing.

When looking at the Statement she quite plainly and frankly said that we can put aside academic needs until we have her feeling safe in school. Until then, she knows she will not learn, yet we can still aim to have her in school! Oh yes please! That’s absolutely what I want and need! I now want to lavish her with chocolates (even though I nearly always keep all chocolate for myself!).

What areas of curriculum does she struggle with? Talked through all those, including the fact that she simply struggles just because of time of year (you know, the usual birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Easter, Halloween) as well as struggling in some topics. When I mentioned that RE is nearly always an issue for her she did say that we could consider asking for her not to study that. This is usually done on grounds of religious belief but if it’s very difficult then … I said thank you, I’ll give it some thought when really I want to whoop loudly. I had never thought of that!!

Transition. She said it needs a steady approach to get her integrated calmly and safely back into school and school life (well, I know that, but brilliant that she does too)! Talked about her even just going in for an hour a day with me too and sometimes just sitting in canteen or the open library area and be able to watch everything happening then progress in small steps from there. She can have a buddy until she finds her way around, there are options for getting into classes and so on. How great that they will accommodate things at her pace (within reason).

At this point I wanted to jump on the table and do a little dance!

There was lots more discussed. Everything on my list was covered and I was more than happy with the answers and ideas and ways of approaching things.

She openly said they will not get everything right but they will work with me. I felt it only fair to then also admit that I will, at times, be a very stroppy parent and apologised in advance (although I still believe my Stroppy hat is a tool I use quite well). She seemed fine with that.

The next day I wrote to the Local Authority and asked them to consider moving Biggey’s named school from her current one to this one. We will have to wait about a week whilst it goes through SEN panel but they will come back to me and let me know the outcome. If approved, they would then have to formally approach this school and see if they will agree to take Biggey. It could all take about 3 weeks so no chance of getting her anywhere near school before Feb half term.

However, we now feel we have a plan. It’s important for me to feel like I have plan. Some of it is a waiting game, some is out of my control, but we have a plan.

The night that we made the request, my lovely hubby and I slept all night – for the first time in ages. Now that felt like a result!

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