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Foster children need tailored transitions back to education

There should be tailored transition arrangements for children in foster care when they head back to school, the Fostering Network has warned.

The primary focus of the initial return of foster carers to school should be on students’ mental health and wellbeing, the charity states, after a survey they carried out found that almost eight in 10 children in foster care did not attend school during lockdown restrictions imposed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive of The Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, said: “The evidence shows that the education offer that children in foster care have received during lockdown has not been sufficiently tailored to their looked after status. The experience of educating during lockdown has brought to the fore the need for more individualised education plans for looked after children.”

The survey found that 74 per cent of foster carers were unaware of any specific arrangements for children in care on returning to school.

Many foster carers told the charity that there has been insufficient support tailored to the needs of looked after children. In England, 62 per cent of foster carers reported not receiving any support from their virtual school - the body with oversight of the statutory duty to promote the progress and educational achievement of children who are, or have been, in care. Just over one in three (36 per cent) foster carers stated that they had been provided with laptops or tablets to facilitate learning, and 14 per cent reported having had no individual contact from schools about the child in their care.

However, lockdown had proved an opportunity for foster children and foster families strengthen their relationship, the survey found.

Foster carers raised concerns about how the children would readjust when they go back to school and the requirements of the formal curriculum, the impact on their mental health, particularly in the context of pre-existing attachment and trauma issues, and how they would catch up socially and academically.

Foster carers highlighted three forms of support they would like to see in place for the children in their care:

- Extra tuition including one to one tuition

- Flexible and individualised transition arrangements

- Mental health support

The Fostering Network says that foster carers are integral to the process of children returning to school. They are well placed to understand the child’s needs and feelings, and as the vast majority have been educating their children at home throughout this time, they will be essential in the dialogue with schools and other professionals.

The report calls for:

- Governments to provide specific guidance for schools on supporting looked after children and those with additional learning needs, such as encouraging schools to adopt a restorative rather than punitive approach to behaviour

- As children transition back to school, their new and emerging needs will have to be assessed and additional funding and support allocated if necessary. Existing funding should not be used to meet these new needs.

- A ‘recovery curriculum’ should be adopted by schools, which has a strong emphasis on emotional and social needs as well as academic needs.

- Virtual schools (in England), or bodies with similar responsibilities should promote and enhance learning and need to fully engage with all the children they are responsible for to ensure a successful transition.

- Foster carers should continue to promote the positives about returning to school to their fostered children.

Chief executive of The Fostering Network, Kevin Williams, said: “The transition back to school for all children is extremely important, but this is especially the case for many looked after children. Foster carers will be essential in the dialogue with schools and others involved in decision making for the education of children in foster care.”

“We welcome the funding already announced by governments to support children as they return to school, but the funding requirements will need to be reviewed as children transition back to school. Additional funding must be provided, as necessary, to support children with their educational, emotional and social needs as part of a recovery curriculum,” he concluded.

Education during the Covid-19 pandemic and transitioning back to school

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