According to feedback from Staffordshire Virtual School cited in the statutory guidance for Designated Teachers, children in care agreed that knowing and having a good relationship with their DT was one of the most important factors supporting them in school.

They list 5 top tips for listening to the voice of the child:

1. Be available, take time to get to know me

2. Notice if I am upset or angry and listen to me when I need help - see our section on Emotion Coaching

3. Understand that even though I've had a different past than most people, it doesn't mean that I need to be treated differently

4. Understand my experience of being Looked After

5. Understand that my past will affect my present and future behaviour even if I don't notice

We have also compiled the following in partnership with care experienced young people and The Fostering Network.

1. We are very conscious of our care status and often prefer it if our peers don’t know we receive extra help or support as a result of being looked after, so please treat us discretely.

24% of care leavers interviewed said they were or had been bullied because they had been in care. Ofsted (2012) Children’s’ care monitor 2011. Children on the stare of social care in England. Ofsted: Manchester

"Being bullied by other children for being in care was the most usual way of being treated worse [for being in care]”. Ofsted (2009) Care and prejudice. A report of children’s experience by the Children’s Rights Director for England. Ofsted: Manchester 

2. Ask us how you would like us to refer to our foster parent e.g. as aunty or uncle.

“The ‘ordinariness’ or lack of it of their lives. Children in foster care do not like to be made to feel different. The differences between their own and their carers’ surnames can make them feel unlike their peers.” Wilson et al (2004) Fostering success: An exploration of the research literature in foster care. Social Care Institute for Excellence: London

3. Understand that we are often adjusting to a new routine in a new home, as well as at school and that this is exhausting and we need support during times of transition.

‘People shouldn’t think of us as an item. If we’ve been moved away from people we love, and moved often, then of course we’re going to be different!’ Ofsted (2009) Care and prejudice. A report of children’s experience by the Children’s Rights Director for England. Ofsted: Manchester 

 All children who have been fostered or adopted have experienced loss – loss of their birth family, possibly loss of one or many foster families, friends, previous schools etc. Many children will be unable to trust adults as they have been let down in the past by those who should have been able to look after them…Changes to school routine need to be supported. Beginnings and endings may be highly charged times – both big (end of school year, new teacher) and small (moving from one classroom to another, beginning of school week, end of lesson). Give low-key reminders about what is happening next, always trying to help the child stay focused and relaxed. Hertfordshire County Council (2007) Working with looked after or adopted children in school 

 “Resilience is key to successful transitions. Children and young people looked after may not:

  • know how to tolerate stress
  • have a strong sense of identity
  • have previous experience of positive transitions
  • believe in their own efficacy
  • know how to problem solve
  • know how to ask for help
  • have support from friends and family"

Cairns and Fursland (2008) Transitions and Endings. BAAF: London

4. Tell us and our foster carers about opportunities to participate in wider school life

Young people and children looked after benefit from taking on further role identities beyond the stigmatised master identity of ‘young person in care’…the different arenas in which we live our lives  - home, extended family, faith groups, school, clubs, workplace – provide opportunities for extending the range of social roles the young person can play. The benefits of each such role include the positive meaning for the young person; social recognition, enjoyment, relationships, achievement. Gilligan (2009)Promoting Resilience. BAAF. London

5. Give us a robust baseline assessment which looks at where we may have gaps (or may excel) in education due to adjusting to the British education system or changing schools. Support us to bridge those gaps, for example through catch-up programmes, homework clubs, 1:1 tuition or online resources.

Almost a thousand children in care have attended three or more schools in a single year, while more than 6,000 have moved at least once in the school year 2013 – 14. Stephenson (2015) Thousands of looked-after children forced to move school at least once a year. Community Care. 

 Abolition of levels means it may be difficult for teachers to know the abilities of young people transferring into their class “Primary schools are no longer required to use national curriculum levels which complicates the tracking of attainment and progress. OfSTED view the change as encouraging schools and inspectors to take a broader view of attainment achieved through work scrutiny rather than narrow teacher assessment…. The absence of any reporting of national measures of attainment across Key Stage 3 has meant that not all schools use the same systems for assessing attainment and progress through the Key Stage.” Rees (2015) Virtual School Handbook 

 “Low expectations may mean foster carers and teachers do not keep a close eye on a pupil’s progress or intervene quickly enough if progress is slow.  They may also give the impression that they do not expect the pupil to do well at GCSE or go to university (Jackson 2001). You need to be aware how much damage can be done by low expectations and make sure you do not contribute to it.” Collis (2008) Education: pathways through fostering. The Fostering Network: London

6. School can be a safe place for us to kick off when things upset us, so please be sensitive to our triggers and don’t take it personally.

Children in care can feel insecure in their placement and see school as a safe place to vent feelings of frustration and anger without directly threatening placement stability.

Hughes (2002) Make school  a place for playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy

7.Advise our foster carers on the best way to support us at home to boost our performance at school.

“..parents and carers derived immense support indirectly from interventions designed to improve the  achievement of their children … Schools that work closely with foster carers and involve them in all aspects of school life are far more likely to see a continuance of progress outside of the classroom.” The APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, 2012, Education Matters in Care

8. Don’t knock our confidence – show us our strengths so we can build on them, and recognise our achievements, believe in us and aspire for us.

“...programmes that incorporate personal development (i.e. communication, decision-making, anger management)…into leaving care services favourably influenced young peoples educational attainment, employment, housing health and other life skills.” Fauth, Hart and Payne (2012) Supporting care leavers’ successful transitions to independent living. National Children Bureau. London

 “...educational attainment is intimately bound up with self-esteem and has far reaching consequences for future occupations, life-style and relationships.” Jackson (2001)Nobody ever told us school mattered. BAAF: London

9. Access to a computer is essential from secondary school, and this can be difficult when we share with other young people at home.

Some fostering agencies have stated that a computer used by a child looked after must be used in a communal room, this may mean that young people have time limited access to a computer be aware of this when setting homework. Boffey (2013) Fostering in a digital world. The Fostering Network: London

10. We want to be treated as normal young people: we want to make friends and achieve, so our lives are not all about being in care.

“Children in care believe that the public generally has a negative view of them. Almost half the children thought the public saw children in care as bad and uncontrollable, and just under a quarter thought they were seen as troublemakers. One in eight children in care thought the public felt sorry for them, and only one in 10 that the public thought children in care are the same as other children.” Ofsted (2009) Care and prejudice. A report of children’s experience by the Children’s Rights Director for England. Ofsted: Manchester 

This material was produced partnership with The Fostering Network, based on focus groups with care leavers and existing research.

Read more: Perceptions of Care, Become 2016/17  

Our Lives, Our Care, Coram Voice 2017