Schools across the UK have now reopened to children, with some having returned full time and others on a part time basis. After being at home for a long period of time, children and young people may feel uncertain or confused about returning to school.
There are lots of resources available to help you support with this transition, and to help address some of the questions and concerns raised by children, young people and foster carers.
It is always good to be as honest as you can about the current situation, offering age-appropriate explanations to the children you care for. Taking time to explain the situation will enhance the trust in your relationship and let them know that they can come to you to discuss any anxieties they might have. With the rules and regulations surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic changing on a regular basis, you might find that you do not always know the answer to their questions. Again, you can be honest about this and perhaps look for the answers together, depending on the age of the child.
Below are some answers to some frequently asked questions to help foster carers support children as they transition back to school and beyond.
- When does my child go back to school?
- Where can I find information and resources to share with the children I care for?
- Will my child need to take a Covid-19 test when they return to school?
- How can I support my child with the return to school?
- What to do if my child tells me they do not want to go back to school?
- What support will be in place for my young person when they return to school?
- We have been shielding and my child is anxious about the return to school and the potential of exposure to the Coronavirus.
- My child has additional needs, what do I need to know about the return to school?
- I am worried that my child will not follow the rules on social contact and social distancing once they return to school.
1. When does my child go back to school?
Each nation of the UK has a different plan for re-opening schools to the whole school population, with some following a phased return by age, so it is important that you refer to the guidance relevant to where you live.
2. Where can I find information and resources to share with the children I care for?
This children’s commissioners for each country of the UK have child friendly resources that you can share:
Young Minds has a bank of information and advice for young people on how to look after their mental health during the pandemic.
Become, the charity for children in care and young care leavers, has a list of frequently asked questions specifically for care experienced young people.
3. Will my child need to take a Covid-19 test when they return to school?
Each nation of the UK will have different regulations on asymptomatic Covid testing for school age children and their families. Children of primary school age or younger are not being asked to test at this time. Across the nations testing is encouraged but is voluntary. If a lateral flow test is positive, a further PCR test should be carried out and you should adhere to guidance on self-isolation.
Further guidance on rapid lateral flow testing within education in each of the countries can be found:
4. How can I support my child with the return to school?
The return to school may be a significant change to routine following the period spent at home. Try discussing the routine for each day with the children in your care in advance, to prepare them for the change. This will allow you both to discover which elements of the day might be causing them anxiety. Together, you can then consider what could be done to alleviate those anxieties and who can help them when they get to school.
The Mental Health Foundation has practical advice for parents and carers on how to support this change.
The Children’s Commissioner for England produced this guide for younger children returning to school after lockdown. This resource was originally written for the return to school last September however, many of its tips will be useful for this stage too.
5. What to do if my child tells me they do not want to go back to school?
Children and young people may be feeling worried or concerned about going back to school to the extent that they express a wish not to return. There are lots of resources available, giving advice on how to address this anxiety and preparing for this change in a positive way.
There are a number of books available, many aimed at younger children, and are widely available:
- ‘Welcome Back Eddie After Lockdown’ by Nikki Saunders
- ‘Harry the Hound Returns to School’ this book is specifically for children returning to school following coronavirus
- ‘Hey Awesome’ by Karen Young
- ‘Hey Warrior’ by Karen Young
Young Minds have a list of tips for adults when discussing these worries with children and young people.
You can search through all the mental health advice and resources produced by Young Minds in response to the Coronavirus pandemic here.
Children have spent a great deal of time at home with carers and siblings during this time and so might find the idea of separation difficult. Breathing exercises can be a useful tool during times of stress. Trying these exercises at home when everyone is calm is a useful way to practice.
If your child is having trouble coming to terms with you spending less time together, try creating a plan of where quality family time can be factored into the new routine. Plan time together at the weekends or evenings, choosing activities that focus on fun and supporting with wellbeing. Place2be have a list of activities for families at home.
6. What support will be in place for my young person when they return to school?
Every school will have a specific person or people responsible for monitoring the wellbeing of looked after children. Here are some suggestions of the staff you might want to speak to before your child returns:
- Designated pastoral support – The school pastoral lead will be aware of the emotional support that your child can access through school as well as potential outside agencies or services that may be beneficial. They may also have a remit to work directly with children to provide emotional support and promote emotional wellbeing.
- Class teacher – For children in a primary setting, the first point of contact will usually be the class teacher. Sharing your child’s anxieties and concerns with their class teacher can show the child that there is a solid support structure around them and reassure them of continuity of support between home and school.
- Form teacher – At secondary school, the form teacher will be able to outline the support available to your child within school.
- Designated teacher (England only)/Designated person (Wales/Scotland only) for looked after children - All maintained schools, academies and Free Schools are required to appoint a designated teacher/person to champion the educational attainment of looked-after and previously looked-after children, and act as a source of information and advice about their needs.
- SENCO - The Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), in collaboration with the head teacher and governing body, plays an important role in determining the strategic development of the SEN policy and provision in the school in order to raise the achievement of children with SEN.
- Virtual School Head (VSH, England/Scotland only) - The role of the VSH for previously looked-after children is to promote their educational achievement through the provision of information and advice to their parents, educators and others who the VSH considers necessary.
- Education welfare officer – Education welfare officers have experience of working with children with anxieties around attendance and working with families to overcome these difficulties. They can be a useful link for guidance and support.
7. We have been shielding and my child is anxious about the return to school and the potential of exposure to the Coronavirus.
Children may be worried about the virus itself, especially if you or they have additional medical needs that have led to periods of shielding. The Centre for Disease Control has a useful guide for discussing the specific risks of Covid-19 and prevention measures with young people.
The NSPCC also had a Coronavirus hub that gives advice on talking to young people about Covid-19 as well as supporting with their wider mental health needs:
8. My child has additional needs, what do I need to know about the return to school?
Contact has a bank of resources to support carers of disabled children during the pandemic.
Scope has information and advice on the return to school for disabled children.
NDCS has a Coronavirus hub for parents and carers of deaf children which includes advice on school support and the impact of face masks on communication.
9. I am worried that my child will not follow the rules on social contact and social distancing once they return to school.
After spending so long away from friends, young people may find it frustrating that the stay at home and social distancing rules are still in place when they return to school. Barnardo’s have written a useful blog explaining why teenagers might struggle with lockdown rules and how best to explore this with them, and Newsround have a useful information hub that young people can use to find out more about how the rules affect them.