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Lucy Stevens - 8th January 2021
2020 was a tough year for everyone but one could argue that it was particularly challenging for foster carers. Many carers entered 2021 with the hope we had left lockdowns and school closures behind us yet it transpires 2021 is no miracle worker!
As we enter this new year and new round of restrictions, foster carers are yet again faced with many challenges.
Can and should my child attend school?
As with so much relating to the pandemic, there is no black and white answer to this. Many Local Authorities wish their looked after children to attend school. Looked after children are classed as “vulnerable” and therefore schools need to offer on-site teaching to them. The government guidelines state that for vulnerable children “who have a social worker, attendance is expected unless the child/household is shielding or clinically vulnerable…”
The DfE definition of vulnerable children and young people who can access their school or college can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining educational-provision
www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining educational-provision
What if I don’t feel that it is in my child’s best interests to attend school or college?
Carers often feel that children in foster care are treated differently to other children. They are conscious of this and the impact it has on children’s ability to form healthy and robust social relationships as well as on children’s sense of self and worth. Over the course of the last few months, carers have asked themselves endlessly what is in the best interests of my child? Is it right for them to be singled out? Are they safer at home? Are we safer if they stay at home? Understandably these are not easy questions to answer. If you are a foster carer facing this dilemma, we suggest talking honestly with your Supervising Social Worker who will be able to talk to the child’s social worker and discuss what it in the best interests of the child and longevity of the placement.
My child is at home; how do I cope?
Remote learning is difficult for children, teachers and carers alike. Schools have generally become pretty good at putting resources online and have learnt a good deal about how to teach remotely. It is no substitution for the physical classroom but it does have its advantages.
Anecdotally, carers have said that many of their children, during the lockdown, were happier learning at home; many of the real challenges came when the classrooms re-opened. For others, school is a real haven and lifeline, particularly the social aspect and these children struggled to focus at home. Carers looking after children with additional needs reported this same variance – some flourished, some really struggled. Either way; it is tough on the carers, many of whom are juggling more than one child, with differing needs, different abilities and managing a range of additional emotional and behavioural considerations.
Routine helps children to know what to expect and encourages good habits for ensuring mental well-being. Having a set time for getting dressed, breakfasting and setting up school will help the child adapt to change. This can be a challenge for older children who might be less motivated or who struggle to engage remotely. Encouraging children and young people to stick to the routine can be hard and might require incentive. A Friday treat perhaps at the end of a good week? It is more important than ever to celebrate small wins.
A child-led approach
Many schools are following a timetable, others might be more fluid, however, carers must be led by the needs, abilities and well-being of the child. It may be that you only manage a small window of time in which the child is focussed or engaged. So be it. It’s important that carers can encourage, reward and distract when needed. Take an interest in what your child is learning, listen to what they are engaged with and try to draw out these interests and find creative ways to encourage these. If your child is having a meltdown each time they need to sit down to a lesson, something is not working and the situation will not be sustainable for the child or the carer. Carers need to let go of some of the pressure that is on their shoulders and lift all pressure from the child where possible. If your child is struggling with remote learning and you believe a different approach would suit them better, speak to the school, speak to the social workers – your child needs you to advocate. Remember, often it will be you as a foster carer who knows the child best and how to bring out the best in your child.
There are many schools of thought regarding the role of screens in managing lockdown for children. There is, of course, the knowledge that too much screen time is detrimental to children yet this is offset by the recognition that devices offer a vital social connection to children during this time. Screens can also serve as a tool for unwinding, relaxing and grounding children. Yet again, it would seem balance is called for but even this is a potential battle field for carers. Helpfully, the BBC has produced a range of programmes on CBBC and BBC2 for primary school -aged and secondary school children. This is a bit of a gift for carers, who can at least mix up the type of screen a child is in front of. The magic of television is that you can use this as an opportunity to sit with your child and engage in the programming together, chat about what you watch and slouch on the sofa while you do so! You can find more information here.
A therapeutic opportunity
We know that education and learning is not all about the academic. Nor is stress conducive to mental or physical wellbeing. As a society, we need to learn how to be. We need to be resilient, compassionate and at peace with ourselves. Lockdown does offer carers an opportunity to help children learn these important attributes. This comes in the side-by-side nature of certain activities that help to ground children, connect them to their physical selves and absorb some of the physical manifestations of their emotional hurt. These activities might include:
- Bread making
- Hand massage – scented aromatherapy oils can be used
- Candle making
- Play dough
- Washing dishes together
- Reading stories together
- Building marble runs
- Mushroom hunting
- Beach combing
- Hair dressing
- Make up
- Jewellery making
- Board games
- Card games
Keep it real
There are a few important things to remember when you’re fostering during lockdown and most of them centre around expectations.
Firstly, you will get it wrong at times! We are all human and all subject to our own frailties and weaknesses. Lockdown is stressful and carers are by no means immune to this. Make sure your expectations as to what you can reasonably achieve are realistic.
Seek support. Your supervising social worker is on hand to ensure that you are as well supported as possible during this time. Be honest about what you are struggling with and be prepared to share ideas and listen to advice. You are not alone and should not feel as if you are.
Take notice. Notice which activities your child enjoys, which help them calm themselves and which help to distract. You can create your own toolkit to respond to the emotional, behavioural, mental, physical and educational challenges you will face.
Care for yourself. Make sure you take some time each day to do an activity which relaxes you and ensures your own resilience. Children will be watching and learning from you and this is a great way to model self-care to children, as well as to ensure your own well-being.
Share ideas with other carers. Use any remote support groups offered to carers by your fostering provider to share ideas. As a community you will have a wealth of resources, survival tips and creative ideas which are of huge value. Don’t hide your light and don’t be afraid to seek fresh ideas and perspectives.
If you don’t feel that you are being sufficiently supported to foster to the best of your ability at this time, it might be worth speaking to other fostering providers/foster carers to find out what they are doing to support their carers.
Eastern Fostering Services will be providing more information about what we are doing and what our carers think of the service they receive over the coming weeks. You can visit our website to find out a bit more about us and can contact us with any questions you may have.