The UK’s leading fostering charity has today published a report calling for tailored transition arrangements for children in foster care on their return to school, and for the primary focus of the initial return to school to be on students’ mental health and wellbeing.
This call to support looked after children comes as 74 per cent of foster carers in a survey conducted by The Fostering Network reported that they were unaware of any such specific arrangements. The findings of the rapid response survey of foster carers and fostering services, which looked at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on looked after children’s education, are being released ahead of The Fostering Network giving oral evidence to the Education Select Committee in England tomorrow.
The survey found that nearly eight in 10 children in foster care did not attend school during lockdown, with many foster carers reporting that there has been insufficient support tailored to the needs of looked after children. For example, in England 62 per cent of foster carers reported not receiving any support from their virtual school (the body with oversight of the statutory duty to promote the progress and educational achievement of children who are, or have been, in care). Just over one in three (36 per cent) foster carers stated that they had been provided with laptops or tablets to facilitate learning, and 14 per cent reported having had no individual contact from schools about the child in their care.
As well as raising concerns about the support offered, the report highlights some of the benefits of lockdown that foster carers and service staff report, including the opportunity for foster carers and the children in their care to develop a stronger relationship.
As children transition back to school, foster carers expressed concern about how the children would readjust to being back at school and the requirements of the formal curriculum, the impact on their mental health, particularly in the context of pre-existing attachment and trauma issues, and how they would catch up socially and academically.
Foster carers highlighted three forms of support they would like to see in place for the children in their care:
- Extra tuition including one to one tuition
- Flexible and individualised transition arrangements
- Mental health support
The report makes a number of recommendations, many of which emphasise positioning foster carers at the heart of the transition process. Foster carers are well placed to understand the child’s needs and feelings, and as the vast majority have been educating their children at home throughout this time, they will be essential in the dialogue with schools and other professionals.
Other recommendations are made for governments, schools, foster carers, fostering services, and other bodies such as virtual schools in England, and include:
- Governments should provide specific guidance for schools on supporting looked after children and those with additional learning needs. This should include encouraging schools to adopt a restorative rather than punitive approach to behaviour
- As children transition back to school, their new and emerging needs will have to be assessed and additional funding and support allocated if necessary. Existing funding should not be used to meet these new needs.
- Schools should adopt a recovery curriculum which has a strong emphasis on emotional and social needs as well as academic needs.
- Virtual schools (in England), or bodies with similar responsibilities to promote and enhance learning, need to fully engage with all the children they are responsible for to ensure a successful transition.
- Foster carers should continue to promote the positives about returning to school to their fostered children.
Chief executive of The Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, said: ‘The evidence shows that the education offer that children in foster care have received during lockdown has not been sufficiently tailored to their looked after status. The experience of educating during lockdown has brought to the fore the need for more individualised education plans for looked after children.
‘The transition back to school for all children is extremely important, but this is especially the case for many looked after children. Foster carers will be essential in the dialogue with schools and others involved in decision making for the education of children in foster care.
‘We welcome the funding already announced by governments to support children as they return to school, but the funding requirements will need to be reviewed as children transition back to school. Additional funding must be provided, as necessary, to support children with their educational, emotional and social needs as part of a recovery curriculum.’