In this section we will be considering the features of a CLA Friendly school that need to be in place for all CLA. Aspects that will ensure we are helping our children to become resilient young people, able to function positively and independently as an adult and to minimise the possible impact of the difficulties they will encounter along the journey through school and education.
The focus is very much on elements that should be thought about for all CLA even if they are seemingly doing well and there are no immediate concerns about their progress and development. This is because we know that at different times as they progress through their educational journey CLA will face more challenges then others who are not part of the Care System. It is important that we maximize their ability to be resilient and survive what life throws at them. Perhaps we could think of this as an “inoculation programme” for CLA.
2.1 HIGH ASPIRATIONS, REDUCING LOW ACHIEVEMENTS
Educational success has to be the first item on our ‘resilience-shopping list’. As we have indicated in the introduction and then in chapter one, at the present time there is a lot of research that informs us that currently many children in the care system are not achieving as well as their peers who are not in care. The impact of this is wide ranging so includes their academic attainments with speaking and listening, reading, writing, spelling, mathematics and basic numeracy. The gap persists and widens as pupils get older until only 7% of children from care attend university compared to over 50% of the general population (O’Higgins et al 2015).
There are many ways to address the situation and much of this document is focused on helping schools to consider what they can do. There are two aspects that are important to highlight here:
A frequent complaint from CLA is that teachers have low expectations concerning what they can achieve educationally. This is also reinforced by the findings of recent research by Welsh Government (Mannay et al 2015). This research found that the CLA themselves were:
”…Not lacking aspiration. Many were able to voice clear aspirations for future careers and employment with their choices influenced by a range of factors. Younger children in particular often had lots of ideas, were confident in their abilities and enthusiastic about their future lives”.
But sadly these same young people also reported that they felt many teachers (and foster carers) had:
“Lower expectations of them, or made assumptions about their intellectual capabilities,
based on them being in care”.
This emphasises the importance of all professionals who support CLA in any capacity ensuring that they have high, challenging aspirations that will inspire and motivate pupils. Welsh Government (2015a) tells us:
“Learners are at the heart of all we do. We have high aspirations for their achievements and
wellbeing: a child or young person’s background must never limit their achievements. To put the
learner at the centre of our education system we must have relevant, challenging and valued
learning, delivered by inspiring teachers, lecturers and support staff who in turn will create inspired learners”.
Reducing Low Achievements
There is not a special intervention for improving literacy or numeracy attainments of CLA that is needed to get better outcomes. The specialist programmes and strategies that we need are those related to the attachment issues and associated problems, as highlighted throughout this resource. In order to reduce or overcome the low achievements with language, literacy and numeracy of CLA the solution is simply to use the interventions we know that work with all children but to implement them differently for those who are CLA.
- Prioritise CLA for inclusion in groups as much as possible and even when there is only a slight level of underachievement;
- Use PDG LAC to provide ‘Catch Up’ support;
- Target CLA for any examination revision opportunities; and
- Encourage attendance at summer schools, holiday clubs and homework clubs.
For some CLA the local LACES team will also be able to help and support where there are a lot of difficulties.
2.2 ENSURE PERMANENCY AND CONSISTENCY
For most of us, child or adult we know with absolute certainty that we have a number of others in our lives who will always be there to love, care, encourage, support and value us. It is what keeps us going at times of challenge, helps us to grow and develop and ultimately gives us our security and happiness. For CLA this has been disrupted, which can be extremely frightening for a child, leading to many of the concerning behaviours seen in schools and should never be underestimated. Looking at the newly changed
world the child is experiencing, from their point of view, and understanding this is imperative. Promoting key relationships in schools, so that CLA have an adult ‘check in’ with them regularly to show they care is essential in promoting a sense of self care and security.
2.3 POSITIVE WELLBEING AND DEVELOPING EMOTIONAL LITERACY
The next item on the resilience-shopping list is for CLA to be equipped emotionally for the world with an adequate level of emotional literacy and a positive sense of wellbeing. We understand that children learn best when their emotional needs are met effectively.
As adults we know that when faced with serious life issues such as loss and bereavement, financial stress or overwhelming anxiety, it is enormously difficult to concentrate on work and our daily activities because our emotions overwhelm our ability to function. We
could not expect children who have, or are, experiencing major trauma and stress to come to school to put their troubles behind them and to settle to learning.
Peter Sharp (2001) defined emotionally literate people as those who are ‘able
to recognise, understand, handle and appropriately express their emotions’. We
need to recognise the emotions we experience so that we can define them. As we develop
an emotional vocabulary we are enabled to put our feelings into words. Emotional
understanding is important if we are to learn from our experiences and develop resilience.
Being able to manage our emotions allows us to build and maintain healthy relationships
with others. Through learning to express our emotions in appropriate ways we are able to
help ourselves as well as other people.
Teaching emotional literacy (and the associated expressive and receptive language) is especially important for the most vulnerable pupils, as their ability to learn may have been adversely affected by emotional and psychological difficulties. If we give them the chance to think about these difficulties within the context of a relationship that is supportive and safe, we can help them become more resilient in the face of adversity. As they feel better able to recognise and manage their feelings, they will engage more readily with the learning challenges presented in school.
There are a number of ways to approach this but the most effective is the implementation of interventions that are already in place in schools across RCT and MT such as ELSA and Thrive.
ELSAs are Emotional Literacy Support Assistants. They are teaching assistants who have completed a 6 day training to help them be able to support the emotional development of children and young people in school.
ELSAs help children and young people learn to understand their emotions and respect the feelings of those around them. They provide the time and space for pupils to think about their personal circumstances and how they manage them.
The THRIVE APPROACH helps staff to identify unmet emotional and social development needs and to address those needs so that children are ready to learn and better able to achieve their potential. It provides a whole school approach to social and emotional development that is rigorous and measured. Through training staff are able to:
✓ Screen children for social and emotional need against age related expectations;
✓ Use classroom and curriculum based strategies to help those in need of some support; and
✓ Provide targeted action plans and 1:1 support for those with greater needs.
2.4 FRIENDSHIPS AND RELATIONSHIPS
A further item that will build and enhance the resilience of a young person in the care system is the ability to interact well socially, build relationships and then develop and sustain friendships. We all need friends. Human beings are social animals and we thrive on our many and varied relationships we have with others. These may be our close family members, our good long time friends, friends that we get on with at work or leisure activities, the people we know in the local shop or those we see on the train each day. All of
these different relationships give us things that we like and need, such as a sense of belonging and the knowledge that others are interested in, and care about us. They also provide many other things: fun, a common identity, comfort, a ‘listening ear’, help and support. Without our friends we would be lost.
Many children who have experienced early trauma may initially appear socially confident and easily able to make friends. However these friendships are often superficial, and gradually it may become apparent that they have many difficulties in sustaining friendships. Problems include:
- They are not the same age emotionally as they are developmentally. This becomes particularly evident at times of stress;
- They will not have had the same role models as others, so do not understand the niceties of relationships such as how to show that they care, how to be tactful or how to say ‘No’ nicely;
- They may have behaviour patterns that frighten or put off others such as lying, stealing, poor attention patterns, a need to control or manipulate
So how can we help?
THE FOLLOWING ARE SOME IDEAS TO CONSIDER, BASED ON WHAT RESEARCH TELLS US AND SUPPORTED BY THE VIEWS AND EXPERIENCES OF PRACTITIONERS.
Don’t wait for a problem
Always consider whether a CLA should be included in any small group interventions being run in the school aimed at promoting friendships and relationships. Better to be included and have additional learning opportunities than not to have a chance for extra learning of these core skills.
Structure, structure, structure
Children who have experienced trauma benefit from structure in their free time. Don’t just let them loose in the playground and hope for the best. Treat them as you would a younger child, and use structure to teach them how to play.
Explicit teaching of appropriate social skills
In the same way as we teach children to read using a structure which progressively builds component elements, we need to take a systematic approach to the development of social and relationship skills. There are many resources available to assist with this.
Be aware, notice and reinforce when the child is trying to apply new skills he/she is learning
Remember, learning something new and / or changing old behaviour takes a lot of effort and can be very difficult. Be alert to children trying to do this and always reward/ praise/ acknowledge what they are doing so that they are more likely to try it a 2nd, 3rd, 4th time.
Regression will occur - be warned!
For all sorts of reasons children will often take a step backwards and not always move in the rapid forward direction we would like. Be patient and stay calm. They will come back to where they were.
Address the ‘naughty’ label
Inevitably children who behave differently at school quickly get identified as being ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ by everyone: other parents, children and school staff. It is important to be alert to this and to work hard to address as rapidly as possible. Otherwise it may become self fulfilling, in that a child may work to the identity others have given them.
Engagement in positive activities
One way of providing the right amount of structure for CLA, as well as building up a positive sense of value and self respect could be to encourage involvement in useful activities such as taking a responsibility (e.g. Playground buddy, helping the caretaker) or participating in a club (art club, playing for the football team).
Prioritise this work
To be able to build lasting relationships and to have a supportive group of friends is one of the biggest resilience features we can help our CLA to achieve. It is more important than any Key Stage outcome. It enhances inclusion in school and society and protects against other risk factors such as academic failure, adult mental health problems and offending behaviour.
2.6 POSITIVE LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION
As explained earlier in chapter 2, however stable, nurturing and caring a child’s current care placement may be they will always have a brain pattern that is built up of their past experiences and memories that can’t be just ‘wiped’ in the same way as we may do with a computer. They are on the ‘red or amber’ roads and it will be a long journey to arrive on the ‘blue’ road.
This means that they will respond and relate to others based on their expectations of what has happened to them in the past. Many CLA see their world through their ‘life glasses’ and will need help to understand that there are different ways to respond to the world. Our communications with children will be crucial to helping them and there are a number of ways we can achieve this:
Relationships with adults
CLA may try to be over familiar or equally very disrespectful and exceptionally rude. The response should always be to calmly show children how they can behave in a way that is more socially appropriate for their age.
E.g. give a ‘high five’, model a conversation opener, shake hands, do a ‘thumbs up’.
Helping CLA to learn when it is appropriate to talk
Learning the subtle difference between when children can talk freely in class and when they are expected to listen to others or simply get on with their work can be hard for some.
Use of visual support cues can help enormously with this e.g. traffic light cue cards or commenting on positive behaviour of others.
Use of positive language
It is far more helpful for all children and young people if instead of telling them what not to do we focus on what we do want.
E.g. “Don’t snatch” becomes “If you want the car, ask Bob if you can have it after he has finished playing with it”.
Or instead of “don’t interrupt” we say “If you stand at the side and look at me I will know you want to speak and will talk to you as soon as I have finished talking to Sophie”.
Explanation / translation of social situations and misunderstandings
CLA will often misinterpret social situations because of what has happened to them in their past. We can
help them by being very explicit about what is going on and why.
E.g. Mohammed was coming into the class very upset at the start of the day because the other
children were taking his baseball cap from him in the playground and he thought they were bullying
him. He needed to be helped to see that this was a game they were playing with all of the children
and that most of the others were really enjoying it and their only intention was to include him in their fun.
Social stories / comic strip cartoons are also useful tools that we can use. The most effective way is always
to do this ‘at the time’ rather than assigning it to PSE or set group time.
Avoid and try
Louise Bombèr (2011) suggests the following are important in our communications with CLA (and all our pupils, of course):