Education: One of the keys to transforming lives

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Joanna Oliver works in strategic development at Chrysalis Care, an independent fostering agency based in the London, serving London and the surrounding areas. In this blog Joanna highlights the importance of foster carers in the education of young people in fostered care.

It is no secret that educational attainment can be a struggle for children and young people in foster care, especially those who have experienced trauma and/or those who have had multiple placements. Missing crucial aspects of tertiary curriculum can have a significant impact upon the basic platform that forms the child's educational foundation. Without this fundament to refer back to, a child can easily drift in focus and become disengaged from formal learning altogether.

Given that we are charged with ensuring that every child 'enjoys and achieves', a disrupted educational foundation is an inevitable obstacle. It's not as simple as securing a school place and ferrying the child to and from school every day. Indeed, it can sometimes have very little to do with the practicalities. Consistent school engagement may be a completely unfamiliar event for a child new into foster care and being provided with correct uniform and fully supportive adults may feel somewhat unusual. Furthermore, this new arrangement and new way of relating to school may serve as a painful reminder of what 'should' have, but has not, been. There may be unconscious factors forming barriers to a child or young person's positive learning experience and as with most other areas of their life, requires sensitivity, patience, nurture and empathy, on the part of the foster carer.

Empathy vs expectation

Balancing an empathetic approach with the undeniable pressure to conform to society's expectation for achieving national attendance standards, is no mean feat for foster carers and those other professionals involved in serving the best interests of the child or young person. Yet, it seems that in order to transform lives, the requirement for balanced, individualised approaches remains a necessary ingredient in the recipe for fostering success. There is definitely not one size fits all and why on earth should there be? Each child or young person needs care that is tailored specially to their needs and preferences.

To spend even a moment comprehending the experiences of some of the children and young people who find themselves in foster care, is to enter a world of unpredictable turning points. Taking this into account when preparing the ground for a child or young person to 'enjoy and achieve', it is clear that an holistic approach, accented by routines and boundaries and bucketfuls of positive reinforcement are essential.

Every educational milestone is worthy of celebration because simply being in education is an achievement for children and young people in foster care. Each achievement is relative and is measurable by distance travelled, so the best place to start is where the child actually is, rather than the  place that society can sometimes impose they 'should be'. Whether that means celebrating staying in class, settling down, making friends, listening to the teacher, completing homework, earning a certificate, improving attendance, passing exams or gaining a place at university, each achievement is magnificent.

Committed foster carers invested in the positive growth of the child - educationally and otherwise - is crucial and whether they realise it or not, foster carers really are - perhaps unsung at times - change makers in this society. As Foster Care Fortnight gets firmly under way, hopefully more people will be encouraged to step forward and explore the possibility of becoming foster carers. After almost twenty years of transforming lives, Chrysalis Care knows the value of championing Foster Care Fortnight and of contributing to the local and national effort to create a buzz around fostering this #FCF17.