Foster carers need more than ever to understand the lingua-franca of the educational establishment and the jargon it employs. To not be fully conversant means dis-empowerment. And this cannot be an option as one of the most important – arguably the most important role, after providing love and stability – is to advocate for a child and their education. This means being able to navigate through the maze of acronyms that abound. Much blame can be laid at the door of the acronym wherever they are used and in whatever context. The main reason for their use is for brevity and speed of communication. They have an unfortunate side-effect in that they suggest specialist knowledge held by a privileged group. And because of the way humans seem to be ‘wired’, it is appealing to be felt part of a privileged group: being a custodian of specialist knowledge confers power does it not? But this can be intimidating for those left outside. The antidote is to realise whatever you do, be it foster carer, tinker, tailor or candlestick maker, knowledge is, and always will be, power. And that can be got. Equally useful is an understanding of the system – in this case, the educational one.
In years gone by – and by this I mean as far back as the nineteen sixties, parents used to drop their charges off at the school gates. Unlike today, they were largely untroubled as they did so. Parents then had confidence that their children were in a system that worked. It was not questioned because it delivered – standards were achieved and maintained. Things are very different today. Paradoxically, as the debate about standards really got going, all it served to do was to create political paranoia and a general fall in standards. When our educational performance is measured against those of the children in certain European and far eastern countries, we are a long way behind. The situation for children fortunate enough to be being educated in the independent sector is different, but that’s a separate debate. Most children will be being educated in the state sector and that will apply to most foster children too. It is important to be open about the performance of our education system. Why? Because again knowledge is power. So it’s important that parents – including foster parents – are aware of the work of PISA. This body, the Programme for International Student Assessment periodically conducts a special survey developed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – better known as the OECD. This researches into the educational achievements of 15-year-olds from across the world. The survey specifically assesses students’ maths, science and literacy skills. Students take tests in these three key subjects, with a focus on one subject in each year of the assessment. Further information is available at
What all parents – including foster parents – should be aware of is when the PISA results from 2012 were released they drew the following response from the then Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove:
“Our performance in these league tables has been at best, stagnant, at worst declining. In the latest results, we are 21st amongst 65 participants in the world for science, 23rd for reading and 26th for mathematics.”
Although this may seem a good few years ago, any measures taken to significantly improve the situation will not be showing results for quite a while. And it is by no means certain that there will be radical improvements as our educational establishments are – according to much press reporting – suffering from funding shortages.
Having such knowledge at one’s fingertips is useful because foster carers, like all of us, can have expectations of what our schools are able to provide that is realistic. It is important to understand the problems they face – as well as what they are achieving. Having such knowledge puts a person in a better position to advocate. More holistic knowledge of a system – and the pressures within it, both internal and external – can only be a good thing. Then there is the more down-to-earth knowledge foster carers need to have of the language and workings of the school system their children will be experiencing. And firstly, it should be understood it has its own language.
Key facts: ‘Personal Education Plan’. The significance of a child’s PEP should in no way be underestimated. Foster carers have a prime responsibility to inform themselves in detail on the purpose of the PEP. It is a document that can define and facilitate in relation to attainment, funding and overall progress. And; vital though the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are, a PEP must also see to it that a child’s healthy social and emotional development is taken into account. Without this underpinning effective learning will be compromised. All foster carers should be aware that they are to a copy of the PEP for the child that they are looking after. And they should ensure that they are given this. It can be understandably difficult to make requests from schools for they are after all busy places. A foster carer should be confident in their right to have such information. A foster carer needs this in order to be able to do their job to the best of their abilities. Thinking like this should enable a carer to more easily be able to ask. One of the basics of fostering is good communication. Foster carers need to be able to communicate in order to advocate for the child they are looking after. Feeling able and entitled to make requests from a school in relation to a child, will sharpen those communication skills. It’s worth stressing that these are an essential part of the skill set of all foster carers. No carer should ever feel awkward about asking for information. Perhaps a particular question could be deemed challenging. But if it needs to be asked in the interests of a child or young person, then it is absolutely the job of a foster carer to ask it. It is important that s foster carer does not place over-reliance on a social worker to ask what might be a difficult question. In fact, informing your social worker of your intentions to address a particular issue should make you feel you have additional support.
If a child cannot rely on their foster carer to support them and, if necessary, ask those awkward questions, who else will do to for them? It is the duty of all foster carers to be a child’s advocate and challenge any obstacles that are in their way. All schools have a professional responsibility to all the children that have. It is a well-known fact that it is often the parents who shout loudest for their birth children that get the most for them. Foster carers need to make sure that their voices, when necessary, are just as loud.
If your foster child moves to a new school, they have a right to a new Pep within a twenty-day period of starting. If you are applying for a new school for a child, the school is obliged to reply within a maximum of fifteen days to inform you as to whether the child will be offered a place. And here is a little known fact. In England, where school admissions are concerned, top of the priority list are ‘looked after children”.
It is not unusual for additional funding to be granted for a foster child. It has been reported that in some schools this extra funding rather than going directly to the child has been absorbed into the whole school budget. Obviously that ‘looked after child’ does not then get the immediate benefit for money intended solely for them. Things like this demonstrate the need for effective advocacy – as well as the importance of all foster carers keeping tabs on schools. It is a fact that a foster child will spend one-hundred-and-ninety days annually in school starting from when they begin in reception right the way through to Year 11. All the time spent in school for any child is critical because it will shape their future life. Too many of our foster children are getting an unfavourable deal compared to their peers and this is not their fault.
It is also important that foster parents have high expectations of the children they care for. Research has shown that children who are growing up in homes where there is a high degree of encouragement to learn combined with expectations of children, they perform well. These are the youngsters that achieve places at university. Much more needs to be done to advocate, support and expect looked after children to do well – to have ambitions. They are just as entitled as any child but seem to miss out on what might be termed the ‘narrative of success’. This is born out by the data we have and which, frustratingly, has been around for a considerable period. The Centre for Social Justice has recently produced a report ’12 by 24’ which outlines plans to raise the number of care leavers progressing to university to twelve per cent by 2024 and specifically for nineteen to twenty-one-year-olds. This is significant as the twelve per cent figure has been used before to describe the current situation. But it is only applicable when applied to care experienced children going on to higher education when they are older. The report notes that the actual figure for looked after children going to university is six per cent and has been so for the past ten years.
Although discouraging this figure is key. Why? Because there will always be a profusion of statistics, but when we see this one moving dramatically upward, everyone with an interest in fostering provision will know that lasting progress is being made. Think of where it currently sits as being the caged canary in a coal mine. It is warning us collectively that we are letting down significant numbers of our foster children. And there are consequences – not the least for our penal system. Understanding this should give all foster carers a tangible sense of personal empowerment. For when they provide effective advocacy for the children they look after, this is what could well be setting them on the path to that university place.
To care…be aware!
Knowledge is indeed power! A regular feature of our blogs will be to direct our existing foster carers to information and, or, resources that can equip them with information and skills to be better foster carers. So here is some engaging and valuable information on building relationships and resilience https://bit.ly/33u8xAs
Rainbow Fostering is now looking to meet fostering applicants in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire.
Could you foster? Could you be there for a child or young person 24/7 – 365 days a year. Could you be an advocate for them – and be prepared to ask awkward questions when needed if it means they will do well, at school. Not many have what it takes. But that is what makes being a foster carer ultimately so worthwhile. There will be difficult and challenging times. That’s why there is a current shortage of 8,000foster families across the UK.
If you have been thinking of fostering previous employment or experience – paid or unpaid – in children’s services could well be valuable. But it is not essential. What really counts is having a positive, enthusiastic always encouraging attitude. Especially because so many children are now coming into care having sadly experienced trauma.
Whatever your particular background or skills, what counts more than anything is that you want to do your very best to support a vulnerable child or young person.
The next step.
Call us right now on 020 8427 3355. Alternatively, our National Line 0330 311 2845 can be used. Speaking to one of our knowledgable and experienced recruitment consultants will not mean you are in any way obligated. We will initially just want to get an idea of your motivations to foster. And let you know about some of the realities of looking after children. At this point some people decide foreseeing is not for them – and that’s absolutely fine. We want to make sure anyone seriously considering looking after children is making the right decision for themselves, and certainly their families. Hopefully, you will wish to proceed and that being so, we will arrange a home visit for a more in-depth discussion. That affords us the chance to meet with you and get an idea of where a child or young person will actually be living.
It’s a good idea – and we know this from the feedback we get from our applicants – to take a thorough look around our website. Here you can read about a lot of different issues relating to fostering. Our blog and news sections also provide plenty of general background in the subject.
Rainbow fostering news is at http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/
A suggestion for a blog http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/reading-books/