Foster Carers should note the rise in school exclusions

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Foster Carers should note the rise in school exclusions

Foster parents and school exclusions

Foster carers and school exclusions

Foster carers will understand that they are mostly dealing with some of the most disadvantaged children and young people in the country. Often described as vulnerable, we need to understand just how all-encompassing this term is. After all, such children are disadvantaged in so many different ways compared to their peers. One of the mantras of our age has been ‘equality of opportunity’. Certainly, considerable focus has been given to this in the workplace. This is because there were plenty of egregious examples from the past illustrating where this was quite clearly not the case. But that centred on the experience of adults. What about children? They, after all, cannot be expected to fight their own corner. Their fate, unless they are fortunate enough to be being educated in the independent school’s sector, is to accept what they are given. And this can depend on where they live – often a postcode lottery. 

One of the key indicators of future educational success – or otherwise – is the family background a child is born into. Tremendous efforts are being made by; amongst others, The Literacy Trust who are keenly promoting the idea of all parents – including foster carers – reading to their children from the earliest age. Indeed, encouragement is now being given by the Trust for parents to read books to their babies. This is all to be welcomed, but, sadly, it is looking like we have already lost a generation of youngsters. They slipped under the radar. No one was there with the time to inspire or motivate them. In any case, so many began their education miles behind their more fortunate peers. This something foster carers will be acutely aware of. It is difficult for an adult to feel how demoralising it must be for a child who can barely read, to arrive in school and be sharing a classroom with children far more advanced than they are. Such children are likely to have come from homes stocked with books. And, critically, homes where parents have devoted time reading to their offspring. They understand well that this will give their children a flying start in the education race. For that is what it is: a brutal and bruising experience that affects children, adults and of course teachers. And because it is a race, the corollary is there will be losers. When so many children – and the numbers are rising – start so many laps behind, our social conscience should be pricked. Foster carers are well aware of the disadvantages looked after children have in this race. Life will never be completely fair, but we should be asking that the government addresses what is a widening gulf. And this is becoming crucially important because the failure to address this situation is leading to disastrous consequences. Why is this happening at all? It may be that without realising it, ideas of citizenship which hinge upon equality, have receded.”Virtue can only flourish among equals” was the view of the pioneering feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft over two hundred years ago. It rings as true today – and it needs to as so many foster children struggle for equality. It should remind us of one of the most fundamental ideas about what it is to be a citizen: equality – and by extension – participation. And without this – and the consensus around it – we will not have a democracy which depends on participation to give it meaning and legitimacy. 

Foster a new approach for a new decade.

 should be axiomatic that the better educated all a country’s citizens are, the better will be its government. It also follows that growing numbers of people let down by an education system will are more likely to feel disenfranchised. At the beginning of 2020, we are seeing increasing numbers that are being entirely failed by a system that is now actively excluding them from education. Foster children can be especially vulnerable in this area. This is not an argument for more funding. We are approaching appoint where however much was spent, problems would be likely to persist. In any case, as the recent election has demonstrated, people are not duped by politicians who promise more funding as if it were the universal panacea. 

What is needed is better, smarter thinking – for all our youngsters including foster children. It’s worth remembering that only six per cent of foster children progress to higher education. Far better management of resources is also needed. In the NHS, for example, the electorate seems to have understood that you can never stop spending on such a vast enterprise. But is the money spent judiciously and effectively? There is plenty of evidence to show this is far from the case. And many of the same dynamics and criticisms – judged by many – also apply to our education system. Here arguments are made that the decades-long pre-occupation with standards has brought about a whole range of undesirable effects within the system. It is difficult to argue against this when the UK’s position in the international educational rankings is so poor. All children including foster children deserve better.

It looks like the most valuable resource we need – good ideas, prompt and coherent action, along with fresh thinking – are in short supply. Looked at properly, many of the most challenging situations we face contain the answers needed. What is currently happening in the area of mounting numbers of school exclusions offers a very good example of precisely this effect. And the absence of smart thinking here means that the country will suffer some extremely disagreeable consequences, not least, a commitment to staggering unaffordable sums on the penal system. Children in the care system aged between ten to seventeen – including foster children – are  according to The Prison Reform Trust five times as likely to get into trouble. This is because of the link between youngsters who find themselves permanently excluded form school and those who go on to commit violent crime is now indisputable. So far the only answer to this has been to set up PRUs (Pupil Referral Units). Even this measure does not address all those youngsters who simply disappear of the education grid and become denizens of the streets. Here they are easily lured into the violent gang culture that results in imprisonment, or worse. And foster children can be disproportionately at risk.

The following statistics from only two years ago must give anyone pause for thought: when a comparison was made against the general student population in England, pupils that had been excluded were – ten times more likely to experience mental health problems; four times more likely to have grown up in poverty; seven times more likely to have special educational needs and twice as likely to have found themselves in the care of the state. Again, foster children – especially those experiencing multiple placement breakdowns can be at greater risk of experiencing mental health issues. These figures become even more compelling when set aside the main social characteristics of adult prisoners which indicated sixty-four per cent had used class A drugs; fifty-nine per cent regularly truanted from school and forty-two per cent were permanently excluded from school.

The question should be asked if PRUs are the best we can do in confronting this escalating problem. This issue is interesting as it demonstrates the law of unintended consequences that arises from sloppy thinking By creating such pressure around standards and results, schools have responded by protecting themselves by excluding those pupils deemed likely to affect the standing of a school, and most especially, its place in the league tables. PRUs are themselves dystopian institutions. One example of the type subjects its pupil to the Orwellian experience of lining up in front of a security guard who proceeds to frisk them for knives. This is a full-body search – something far removed from the singing of hymns that starts most school days. Pupils are then monitored in ways more typical of the gulag. Corridors in such institutions are described as being ‘locked down’. Visit to toilets requires an adult escort carrying an electronic fob to open connecting doors en-route. Children are most commonly sent to such places because they have been disruptive or committed acts of physical violence. This is a problem that is likely to persist: even in 2018 – over the previous five years – a fifty per cent rise in the number of children in England being permanently excluded was been recorded. In 2017 that meant 16,732 pupils were found themselves in PRUs. The figure for London then stood at 3,206. PRUs are only a means of containment – an admission of defeat. They cannot really be considered anything else when their examination results are taken into account. Only 1 in 100 were achieving five good GCSEs with PRU pupils aiming for that experiencing a ninety-nine per cent failure rate. Put another way, PRU students looking to achieve 5 good GCSEs have a ninety-nine per cent failure rate.

Proof that smarter thinking can make a difference.

There is a school in Lambeth where many of the pupils are disadvantaged with around half of them eligible for free school meals. Here they have adopted a zero exclusion policy. The headteacher has managed to reduce permanent exclusions from five annually to zero with temporary exclusions plummeting form five hundred and ten to just ten. The headteacher is David Boyle and when asked how this had been accomplished, he stated:

“We realised that the overwhelming majority of students who are violent or disruptive have a history of trauma or vulnerability. These children tend to be caught up in domestic violence, gang disputes or suffer disadvantage through mental health issues, neglect of poverty. So instead of sending these students to a PRU, we set up an alternative on-sire provision to support them that we call the Base.”

For more background information on trauma visit. http://assisttraumacare.org.uk/our-service/children-are-affected-too/

Foster a new and different approach. 

What is striking is significant is that Boyle does not see the Base as a punishment option. It is regarded as a “resource to  address vulnerable children’s needs.” The Base unit is run by Maxine Clarke: “Around 50 students a year use the Base and everyone gets a bespoke intervention. They come in having had lots of negative experiences and we start to change their narrative and build on their positive attributes. These children know they are in the last chance saloon and so what happens here can alter the trajectory of their lives.”

The educational results – as compared to PRUs – are compelling: twenty-six per cent of Base students achieved 5 A* to G grades, with one 100% being awarded at least one pass. And here is the financial benefit that a sea change in thinking can bring about. The cost per student at a London PRU is reckoned to be £18,000 – twenty times the £900 per student Boyle states is the equivalent cost incurred at the Base. But this is only the start. The financial saving is likely to be huge if children are turned from a path leading to crime and incarceration. And how much better for all of us if they can enjoy success and follow a trajectory that results in them becoming fully engaged, participating citizens. This is something all our children – including foster children – have a right to do.

Could you foster a child and welcome them into your family. 

We can offer you a wide range of professional fostering career choices. You could consider training to foster siblings, or to foster teenagers – maybe specialise in parent and child placements. Our professionals will be delighted to discuss your motivations to foster – as well as give you as much information as you want. You can apply online and set up a call at a time of your choosing or just phone now on 020 8427 3355 or make use of our National Line 0330 311.

Rainbow Fostering has now been established for over twenty years. We are delighted to have been rated ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by Ofsted. This means we are a leading uk fostering agency. Certainly depend on Rainbow for all the support and training you will need to become an experienced and skilled foster carer. And the support is in place 24/7, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. 

Finally, we endeavour to make our website a dynamic and informative resource. Please make use of it – and remember it has news – as well as general information about a great many issues that relate to fostering and the general welfare of children in the care system as a whole. Remember Foster care can mean different things to different people. Caring for children requires special skills. There are many agencies, but we pride ourselves in the way we work in partnership with our foster carers to ensure the welfare of our children. Our children are not adopted, they are fostered. Adoptive parents have full legal responsibility for a child. Foster care and adoption differ as a child who is fostered is the legal responsibility of their ‘corporate parent’ – the Local Authority in the area they came into care from.

We work to build the parenting skills of our carers so they can deal with the emotional demands a child(ren) may place on them. Children in foster care come in all shapes and sizes – children with disabilities need foster parents as well as youngsters who have experienced neglect and/or abuse.

The foster care system can seem a confusing place for people when they first apply. A foster family with Rainbow will always be able to count upon our commitment to providing the best support and training. This means we offer plenty of respite care. We have a highly successful recruitment record as we understand that to become a foster parent will need plenty of ongoing support and guidance.

At the moment there are many more foster families needed to provide foster homes – some 8,000 additional families to provide love, security and advocacy for those children and young people they care for. 

Becoming a foster parent with Rainbow could well be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done. And the professional career opportunities we offer – with our ongoing free training packages – means you could be earning up to £40,000 per annum as a fully trained therapeutic foster carer. If you develop the expertise to foster teenagers, sibling groups or manage parent and child placements, your earnings will rise as you become more experienced.

Some of the children we have do go for adoption if a long term placement has worked out well for all concerned. Adoptive parents are also in demand across the country. Please take the time to visit:  http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/ Today’s Blog choice  http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-care-cross-cultural-placements-2/

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