We’ve been fostering for six years and one of the striking things from that time is the ways in which school can be a ‘hostile environment’ for fostered children and young people. It doesn’t just stop at the school gate though; the damage can reach deep into their home lives and put terrible strain on the relationship with their fostering families.
The Hostile Environment
Because of the way that Academy schools are organised in England, they can make up their own admissions rules and leave care-experienced children and young people on their waiting list for months with everyone else. A recent TES investigation found care-experienced children and young people having to wait for up to eleven months for a full-time school place. For children moved around the system, the consequence is that they simply go without and education in spite of the fact that under the Human Rights Act 1998, all children have the right to an education – and yes, that’s ALL children, which includes those who are care experienced too! We have had our own experiences of this; last year, I had to fight hard to get our new foster boy into the local school for his final and crucial GCSE year. The local authority can ask the Education and Skills Funding Agency to direct Academy schools to accept foster children, but the TES investigation demonstrates that this isn’t being done nearly enough. We’ve been around for a bit now, so have the confidence and know-how to challenge schools. When we first started fostering, we didn’t feel confident enough to challenge these decisions so our children either didn’t go or ended going to schools that weren’t suitable.
Click here for Keith’s thoughts on how to develop the confidence to challenge decisions.
Once you eventually get your foster child into school, the picture isn’t that rosy either. Although the way that we measure their ‘achievement’ is far too narrow, care-experienced children and young people’s attainment is consistently lower and school exclusions are consistently higher than their friends and classmates who aren’t care-experienced. They face an enduring stigma that follows them everywhere they go – including into school. Two organisations Become and Voices From Care Cymru recently undertook a survey of teachers and revealed some appallingly negative attitudes towards care-experienced children. These children don’t make poorer progress than their mates because they’re less bright or naughtier than others; it’s because we structure school in a way that puts lots of barriers in front of them. When they struggle to overcome those unnecessary barriers we use it as proof that they weren’t capable in the first place.
Stable relationships are an incredibly important contributor towards the well-being of care experienced children and young people. For those in foster care, that primary stability comes from within their fostering family.
Sadly, this stability can often be a fragile one, resulting in children having to move on to another fostering family. Many fostered children experience stable, long-term fostering family life, but others are let down and never allowed to settle; a set of issues that are powerfully brought to life by Ben Ashcroft’s must-read book, ‘Fifty-One Moves’. Following the recent publication of the ‘Stability Index’, the Children’s Commissioner for England argued that too many care-experienced children and young people are like “pinballs”, because of the way that they’re pinged around the system.
I regularly see campaigns to provide children with luggage for when they move fostering families. Of course it’s a scandal that their belongings are moved around in bin bags, but the bigger scandal is that they are being moved around so frequently in the first place. Professionals working with fostering families should be doing much more to avoid these relationships breaking down because of the terrible damage that it does to care-experienced children and young people and the pain that is causes to fostering families. The i