Foster carers are the kind of people that need to have a very particular blend of attributes. Ask someone unconnected with fostering as to what these might be, and kindness and compassion will be high if not top of the list. Those involved with fostering provision professionally equally well know that resilience and organisation are key qualities. But there is one more quality that is mentioned far less. And it’s one needed across the board in all walks of life – so it increasingly seems. That it is given much less emphasis may have to do with the way the world has been changing – more specifically the increasing speed at which it this is happening. What is this quality? Quite simply wisdom. It’s a word that does seem to be diminishing in use – at least in the public discourse. This is certainly to be regretted. Why? Because the implications of this diminishment have the most profound consequences for us all. And certainly for the society we live in. We are collectively suffering the ill-effects of this. It’s also evident there won’t be a single area of human affairs that is not paying the price for this.
Serious consideration needs to be given to this. Without wisdom, we will go on suffering from the implementation of policies that have unfortunate and unintended consequences. To understand why it’s important to establish that wisdom is not synonymous with being smart or clever. Too many think it is. The problems we face exist because terms like smart are often thought to be synonymous with wisdom. The truth is usually very different. This can be established by making a simple comparison of the different sets of associated synonyms. ‘Smart’ is a good example: competent; gifted; intelligent; quick-witted and savvy are just a few. Compare this to ‘wisdom’ and the difference is marked: judgment; acumen; caution; foresight and discernment are the key synonyms. By making this comparison, we become aware of just what a difference there is. There is also the realisation that thinking about the difference between being smart or wise also implies a rate of tempo. We are living through times where the ability to be smart and come up with an answer or solution quickly is at a premium. It’s more important to have an answer ready rather than not having one. This can be understood in a world that becomes more competitive with each passing day. But it doesn’t mean we are getting the right answers to the problems we confront. Worse still, many supposedly right answers have exacerbated a particular problem by adding new ones to the mix. And because of the associated phenomenon of rapid tempo, these new problems appear at an even greater rate.
There are many examples of this; not least because we exist in a world where the mindset of providing an instant answer is needed in order to appear credible. It directs – or rather misdirects – almost all political discourse and planning. This means it affects every aspect of life – the actions we take and all the things we depend upon. The consequence: problems are not solved they merely deepen. Sadly, the examples are too numerous to list: education is one of them.
But for everyone involved with foster care and fostering provision, education is the area likely to be causing most concern. This is not because only foster children are affected – far from it. All children are affected when the system and its guiding principles are no longer fit for purpose. The painful truth is that foster children will be being affected disproportionately as they already have so many disadvantages to overcome.
There has been a great deal of comment on the failures and inconsistencies of our education system – especially in the recent past. The educational establishment has rarely been short of new theories – just excellent results. The Pisa educational rankings position the UK well down the order. By comparison, Scandinavian countries; most notably Finland, have left us standing. The same is true for countries in the far east such as Singapore and Japan. The response in the UK seems to be to devise ever more testing for children at younger ages. This is allied; predictably, to a fascination bordering on paranoia over the results. This has had highly negative consequences with some schools quick to exclude certain pupils to protect their standing in the results league. This has left many foster children at a heightened risk. It has also led to many parents desperately seeking to move to the catchment areas of schools perceived to be better than others. With numbers obviously limited many will be disappointed. Morale is being adversely affected throughout the system.
The evidence is conclusive that more of our youngsters – including foster children – are suffering from mental health issues – along with a rising proportion of teachers. As a group, foster children are known to be at greater risk. In England, the number of schools now purchasing professional mental health support for pupils has nearly doubled in three years. This is largely because; as a new survey has found, prompt access to NHS services for children in need remains a problem. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Paul Whitman: “we can see that schools are responding to an increasing need and a lack of capacity in specialist services by commissioning their own support such as counsellors. Although to be applauded, this is another area where schools are being forced to use scant resources for urgent provision that is not provided for in their budgets.”
More worryingly, the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said only a week ago that England was still at least a decade away from decent mental health services for all children.” And foster children who have experienced multiple placement breakdowns often find it much harder to access CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).
The state of affairs we had reached is perplexing. Many think a system has been created that is having toxic effects. And it looks like one that is having to be structured to deal with problems of its own making. A recent survey has found that seventy-nine per cent of schools have what is termed a ‘whole-school approach to positive meant health’; seventy-eight per cent have a staff member with specific responsibility for mental wellbeing and at sixty-seven per cent of schools, staff have undertaken mental health training.
When the recent ‘Children’s Mental health Week’ started, Nick Gibb, the education minister stated: “as a government we are investing hundreds of millions every year in mental health support, including providing better links between mental health experts, schools and colleges and providing quicker access to specialist treatment where needed. Through our new compulsory health education, pupils will be taught how to recognise the signs of poor mental health so they can ask for help earlier.”
Against this background, many will be quite rightly puzzled that the answer appears to be even more testing. We need to foster a new attitude in relation to testing.
We need to rehabilitate the word wisdom back into our everyday lexicon. Crucially, we need to focus on what it actually is. And how by being wise we will adopt measures that will deliver the outcomes we want. Experts are thick on the ground in the field of education. Doubtless many would be pleased to be considered smart and quick-witted favouring their own ideas. Perhaps that is a problem in itself. Competition and rivalry are not always healthy. Because the system is producing such a series of ill-effects, people who are not directly involved in it are beginning to question. This is a good thing. We all have a vested interest in a system that produces happy well-rounded people able to contribute meaningfully to society at large. We should be investing heavily to make the educational experience as satisfying and personally rewarding as possible for all children. This should be a priority because of the disadvantages faced by so many foster children. We should not be spending prodigious sums to sort out problems the system has created and then proceeds to make worse. In short, we need to be thinking wisely about what education actually is. What should our expectations be? What do we want it to deliver, both for the individual and our society? Such enquiries have the potential to be transformative. If we can agree, then far more of our young people might end up living more satisfied and personally rewarding lives. That’s good for them and all of us too.
The education of the country’s children – including foster children – is too important to be left to the experts. The record is not looking good. What’s needed is entirely fresh thinking and a recognition that some countries are outpacing us and why that is. There are some who; having seen how schools in Finland have rejected repetitive testing and focused on creative play- with a connection to the outdoors – argue we should be doing the same. These schools have a completely different approach which should not be difficult to replicate – or at least a significant amount of the thinking. There is no reason why we should not be doing this if we are serious about focusing on the long-term wellbeing of our children.
The benefits of children spending time in the great outdoors have long been known. It is numbing to think that over recent years many of our schools have been selling off parts of their land – including playing fields. And by April of 2019, the government had approved the sale of 215 in England since 2010 at a time when childhood obesity is treating worrying levels. As far back as 2005, a study by the American Medical Association concluded the following:“healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play out-of-doors.” There are other examples that are instructive. Many years ago Kurt Hahn – very much a visionary from Germany – pioneered the benefits of outdoor and adventure education. He was the founder of Salem Schools, Gordonstoun public school, Outward Bound, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme as well as the Atlantic Colleges. More information on this pioneer of educational thinking is available at – http://infed.org/mobi/kurt-hahn-outdoor-learning-and-adventure-education/
Foster a very different approach.
Foster carers will be acutely aware that they will – in all probability – always have a challenging job to do supporting the children they care for through their education. But we should not lose sight of the fact foster carers can be extremely powerful advocates of the children they care for. Indeed, it would be good to see some more specialist training courses dedicated to covering this area. The more foster parents are informed about issues such as creative play; the importance of children spending more time in the outdoors as part of their overall educational experience, the better things will become. Such pressure can be a powerful force for change applied to a system that many now think needs to be drastically rethought. It was recorded back in 2016 that a third of new teachers in the state sector were quitting the job within five years of qualifying. That statistic alone should be telling us there is a real problem.
We hope you will apply to Rainbow if you are thinking of fostering.
We are very proud that Rainbow has been rated ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by Ofsted. We offer all our foster carers the best in training and support. If you have already worked professionally with children that’s an advantage, but it is not essential. What is crucial is having a genuine interest in supporting a child so they can do well at school. To foster, you do not have to own your home.
We welcome people from the LGBT+ community to become foster carers. And we welcome people from all cultural backgrounds and traditions into fostering with Rainbow. To foster with us you must be over 21and have a spare room for a child or young person. To discuss your application and learn more about fostering please call 020 8427 3355 or our National Line 0330 3112845.
We want people to apply who will always remember that childhood should also be about fun and new experiences. Our Youth Participation Team provides many opportunities for trips and fun days out for all our foster carers and their children.
Visit these pages for more information: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/therapeutic-foster-carer/
A recommendation from our blog series – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/fostering-children-support-reading/