If you are a foster carer you will know just how important it is foster children are encouraged at school. But the current reality is that children in the care system have a consistently lower level of academic achievement than their peers. The truth is that they are far less likely to obtain GCSE’s, A levels and therefore are able to progress to further education. But the school experience remains very important in other ways. This is why it is essential that foster carers promote the value of school life to the children they care for. School is more than just about acquiring qualifications – after all this happens at the end of the process. What is happening along the way can be enormously influential in the life of a child or young person. Being able to enjoy school life and experiencing it as stimulating and worthwhile is valuable and key to children developing resilience. How does this come about? School provides a structure combined with a sense of purpose. It can come to represent continuity to a child whose only experience has been upheaval. School helps with maintaining contact with friends – as well as important routines. Crucially, school can be the means for a child to keep in contact with people who share their culture and ethnic background – especially if this is not reflected by the placement they are in.
School is the environment where children begin to make friends and learn how to build relationships with other children as well as adults. It is where they start to develop a sense of identity by joining in social events and different activities. Foster carers can play a vital role in supporting enthusiasms the children they look after begin to express. These can be for sporting activities or artistic pursuits. Doing this can help a young person see value in themselves. Sadly, when children come into care their feelings of self-worth can be meagre or nonexistent. Helping them to develop an interest can help with this – especially if the foster carer celebrates the worth of a particular activity. This really matters as there are many studies that have been made of children in care which indicate their educational problems begin well before they enter care. Through no fault of their own, they start and continue their school life several laps behind other children. And this is something foster children can be particularly aware of. It is also something government needs to do a lot more to address. The recent foster care stocktake identified the fact that foster children do less well because of a range of negative effects undergone prior to their coming into care. Less was said about what active measures could be taken to address this. Raising the levels of achievement of foster children has to become a key government objective. Measures need to be in place to ensure this happens. The two most important things are placement stability and having foster carers who themselves value education. Research has also highlighted the need for greater ‘joined up thinking’ and planning between social services for foster children and local education services. One study conducted in Wales demonstrated a lack of collaboration between education services and social services.*
Foster carers can achieve much for the children they care for by celebrating what school life has to offer in the round. Examination results are important, but they should not be represented as the ‘be all and end all’. School life is exactly that: life. And life will encompass more than just qualifications. The government must do far more. It is not just about quoting ever larger sums of money being spent. Better to spend far less and spend it effectively. The way foster carers see themselves and their roles – and going forward, the kinds of foster carers recruited – will determine the futures of our most vulnerable children.
Pithouse, A., Jones, E., Crowley, A., Butler, I., and Smail, P. (2000) A study of the placement of looked after children in Wales – Commissioned by SSI Wales, Cardiff: School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.
Could you help a child or young person to succeed at school? Team Rainbow needs you!
At Rainbow foster care we look for people who really want to make a difference to the lives of some very vulnerable children. It is about giving them hope and the right to have ambition for their lives. This means actively supporting their education: making time for special trips to places to broaden young minds. And we’ll be there supporting you. We are ambitious for our foster carers to succeed – if they do, so do the children they look after. Knowing you have inspired and supported a child to make something of their lives is a reward like no other.
If you would like to find out more about the person you can become, please call Team Rainbow today on 020 8427 3355 – or 0330 311 2845 for our National Line. Be special. Be a foster carer. Be one of us!
Remember to visit the rest of our website if you have time: we cover in detail a range of subjects that include: foster care payments; types of fostering, fostering allowance and benefits paid – and how long it typically takes to become a foster carer.
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