Foster carers all understand the overriding importance of supporting a child or young person through their education. Apart from ensuring their day-to-day safety and wellbeing, this is central to the role of a foster carer. COVID-19 has launched us all into a completely new and unexpected world. Its effects have touched every aspect of our lives. And nowhere is this more true than the truncation of normal school life. The frenetic start to the day in family households all over the country has, for the time being, been suspended. Exhausting as trying to eat cereal, getting dressed and finding PE kit simultaneously is, the contrast with early mornings now could not be greater. We have replaced one set of pressures with another. Foster carers – and all parents – now have the daily prospect of their children being at home 24/7 for the foreseeable future. At this stage in the pandemic, everyone is wondering when the schools will open their doors again.
The government’s hortatory announcements have, as yet, not included a date for our schools to reopen. This means parents and foster carers are experiencing a state of suspension whilst having to ensure learning continues at home. To be fair, the government is making strenuous efforts at clarification. This is hard because, all too understandably, the picture is a moving one. And may already have changed since the Education’s Secretary’s response to the issue of school closures given on 19th April. This was made during the government’s daily press conference. The address by the Minister; intended to clarify the position in relation to school closures and address the anxiety of parents and teachers. But it made clear no date has been set for reopening. This will, it was explained, depend upon five key tests being passed in relation to managing the virus: first, protecting the ability of the NHS to cope and be able to continue providing critical care across the country; second, the daily death rates need to be coming down; third, there has to be reliable data indicating infection rates are also decreasing; fourth, confidence must be established in testing capacity and that supplies of PPE will be adequate – now and into the future; faith, that any relaxations or changes will not result in a second wave of infections.
Without all of these criteria being met foster carers and parents can expect to carry on having to support homeschooling. What has been heartening is the way large scale organisations, companies and individuals have rallied round to create a plethora of online resources. These cover the entire spectrum of need: programmes for physical exercise; educational resources covering all curriculum subjects and appropriate to all ages; links to sites for recreation and entertainment included. The government themselves have published a list of high quality online educational resources which aim to support physical and mental wellbeing. There are also materials specifically for teaching children with disabilities or special educational needs.
In any crisis situation there will be different responses. For some, the pressures of having children at home and being responsible to a greater degree than usual for their schooling will be felt keenly. Many foster carers have experience of living with the unexpected – especially where short -term placements are concerned. It can be imagined; and certainly, this is to be hoped for, that many foster parents will be engaging in ways with their children as never before. Everyone is having to learn new methods of communication and perhaps grappling with the technology they would have by inclination, avoided. The educational establishment has had to do a hand-brake turn to deal with the unprecedented situation. But pressure can; just like ‘necessity’ be the ‘mother of invention’ and lead to effective collaboration. And now a shared goal is delivering impressive results – just one example: The Oak National Academy which was launched online on the 20th April. This initiative has been spearheaded by forty “brilliant teachers” – as described by the Minister – who have put together video lessons and resources available for any teacher in the country to utilise. This means that one hundred and eighty different video lessons will be provided weekly covering a broad range of subjects. This has also been the BBC’s opportunity to extricate itself from the mire it found itself in for three years whilst accusations of bias over Brexit filled the airwaves. The pandemic has allowed the organisation to rediscover its raison detre as a public service broadcaster. Many foster carers will no doubt be experiencing the benefits of the BBC’s commitment to developing resources for families. As the Minister fulsomely acknowledged: “This has been part of the most comprehensive education package in their – the BBC’s – history.”
Another positive step was the Minister’s acknowledgement: “Young people who have left care or are just about to, whether that’s from a foster family or residential care, are really vulnerable right now. So I am asking local authorities to ensure that no one has to leave care during this difficult time.”
The government has also moved with alacrity to ensure as many children as possible are able to access online learning. Laptops and tablets are being provided for disadvantaged children and young people. The promise has also been made that disadvantaged secondary school pupils – which will include a proportion of youngsters in the foster care system – if working for exams without internet connections, will be provided with 4G routers connecting them whilst the schools are closed.
What effects is the lockdown having?
Four weeks into the lockdown, children and their families will have discovered new ways of working as a family unit. There will be positives: family members are simply having to learn tolerance and understanding. And respecting the fact everyone has their own challenges to face. Living to learn together is always going to be a valuable lesson. The paradox is so much talk has been about ‘distancing’ and now many families are being drawn closer. But some will not. There are already considerable worries about many children living in settings where there were already concerns about domestic violence and abuse. Some children will be spending a lot more time online and that can have risks. Foster carers will have to maintain their vigilance. It is encouraging that industry is responding. A safeguarding app has become available to foster carers, carers, parents and teachers in Northern Ireland. Called ‘The Safer Schools’ app, it has been developed by the iNEQE Safeguarding Group is now being offered to the Department of Education.
Peter Weir, the Education Minister, stated: “The COVID-19 crisis is impacting on every aspect of our lives. Many of our schools are open for vulnerable children and the children of critical key workers and I thank them for that. As our children and young people have more free time it is only natural they will spend more time online. We want to make sure that teachers, parents and carers have all the knowledge they need to keep children safe online.”
The future – lessons to be learned.
When the pandemic is finally brought under control we will be living in a country that will have been fundamentally altered: forever. It is to be hoped we will all soon again be venturing into the ‘sunlit uplands’ so beloved of the prime ministers hero, Churchill. When we can we will know ours is a generation that has fought its own war with an unseen enemy. And this conflict has been on a global scale.
The world has shown it can be a place of danger and great uncertainty. The debate around climate change has been conducted as if homo sapiens were in complete control. That we are the masters who; in a high-handed manner, can decide on the planet’s destiny and our collective future. We are playing out the conceit of deciding which species are to be allowed to share the journey with us. Not only that, what natural wonders and resources we will continue to allow to exist. The truth is humanity has been badly caught out by this unbridled and hubristic mindset. Nature has reminded us that we are its playthings – and not the other way around. One of the most sobering facts we should always keep in mind is more species have gone extinct on earth than those present today. And that is before Man appeared himself. We have no special entitlement to be here. This pandemic has lessons for us all. Our place is not guaranteed. Our technology, whilst dazzling, cannot be relied upon to save us. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learnt worldwide is one of simple humility and gratitude. And especially to all those brave individuals in the front-line services.
Make a difference in the life of a vulnerable child or young person today.
Rainbow is currently recruiting foster carers in London, Portsmouth, Birmingham and Manchester.
The need for more foster carers was pressing before the lockdown – some additional 8,00 new fostering households are needed. And the effects of the pandemic have made it likely even more foster carers will be needed. This is because the effects of the lockdown may cause more family breakdown.
Because we all need to stay at home, our recruitment team are now able to arrange a Skype call with applicants ahead of an Initial Home Visit. This will enable us to discuss their motivations to foster – as well as to take most of the key details needed to progress an application quickly and efficiently.
For the very latest information on the pandemic and how to stay safe, save lives and protect the NHS you can visit – https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
Rainbow has been rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted. Please contact us now on
020 8427 3355 or use our National Line – 0330 311 2845 to discuss starting your fostering career further. We are able to arrange initial interviews via Skype so we can progress any application right now. Please call for details of this easy and straightforward procedure. We provide all the necessary guidance over the phone.
We have provided information on a whole range of fostering related topics on our website –
And our frequently asked questions (FAQs) page has the most common questions asked about fostering which should be a useful guide to the main considerations – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/