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How I helped my foster child engage with education

Thursday 15 July 2021

Tanya’s 16-year-old foster child was finding it difficult to engage with full-time mainstream schooling.

As his attendance and his commitment to learning waned, Tanya put a support plan into gear. Almost two years on, it’s a different story.

Starting from a bad place

Tanya, a single parent fostering in Northamptonshire, currently has three teenage foster children, not related.

The eldest, a boy of 16, came to her 20 months ago. At the time, he was finding it hard to engage in mainstream education and the situation went downhill.

Tanya explained: “When he came to me, he was doing a part-time timetable, but that soon diminished to nothing.

“He had very challenging behaviour and was moved from one alternative education provider to another. None of them could meet his needs. He was in a really bad place.”

The boy’s previous foster placement had broken down and there had been a few failed attempts to rekindle his relationship with his birth mother.

“There is only so much a child can cope with,” Tanya said. “We had lots of different meetings with lots of different educational specialists, but he simply didn’t want to engage and refused point blank to co-operate.

“To him, education was not important; in his head he already knew everything he needed to know.

Finding a way forward

“I picked my battles and chose not to argue with him about it or try and make him go to school.

“It was more important to support the placement and for him to feel that he was with someone who did not judge him or look down on him.

“That approach worked really well.”

A year on, the situation looks very different. Tanya’s foster child has a place on a vocational course, learning to become a mechanic. He really enjoys what he is doing and is responding well to not having to do much reading or writing.

In fact, he’s doing so well that the provider is exploring the possibility starting him on a formal apprenticeship later this year.

Tanya said: “He’s there three days a week but he’s up and out of bed every morning, whether or not he’s going to college. He seems more motivated and engages more with what is going on at home.

“It’s like a weight has been lifted off him and he seems happier and more relaxed. It is great to see.”

‘Important to listen’

Tanya always wanted to work with children. When her birth children – both girls – were seven and eleven, she applied to become a foster carer with Fostering Solutions in Oundle.

By that point, she was a single mum and wanted to be able to combine looking after her own children with supporting children who’ve had a difficult start in life. Twelve years on, she has fostered 13 children, aged from three to 16.

She believes that it is important to listen to a foster child who does not want to engage in education and to be supportive.

She said: “Looked after children have missed so much in terms of their education and development. They may have been in birth families where they didn’t go to school, their chronological age may be lower than their peers or they may find it hard to conform in social settings.

“Often, they have low self-esteem and may struggle to form relationships. The classroom sizes tend to be too big for many foster children to be able to thrive.

Go at their pace

“I’ve had a couple of foster children who didn’t want to engage with education and I would say it’s important to acknowledge that classroom-based learning doesn’t suit all young people and there are other avenues you can go down.

“It’s amazing what can be achieved if you go at the young person’s own pace. My advice would be, take a step back and ask for help.

“Also, listen to the young person. They may not know why they don’t want to engage in education, or even be able to articulate it but it is important to listen to them and to realise they will only engage when they are ready to engage.

“With this particular young man, I used to think outside the box. He liked cooking so I’d get him to cook when he was out of school rather than worrying too much about Maths and English. After all, we all need life skills.”

Small things make a big difference

Tanya believes that, once a foster child does find a type of education they can engage with, the benefits can extend into all aspects of their life.

“The fact that he’s now getting up in the morning shows that his whole approach to life has shifted.

“I had another young lady staying with me who really wanted to know what time she was born. Her local authority social worker wasn’t able to tell her but I made some more enquiries and was able to find out for her.

“It was such a small thing, but it made a huge difference to her. My birth children knew what time they were born and she wanted that too. Sometimes it is the small things that make the biggest difference to a foster child.”

Feeling inspired?

Many different kinds of people from all walks of life can foster– we welcome diversity because our foster children are diverse too.

If you’re thinking about fostering and wonder if you’re suitable, you could try our Can I Foster? tool. Alternatively, get in touch with your local team and start there.

Find out if you could be a foster carer
Find out if you could be a foster carer
In a few simple questions, you’ll know if you’re suitable to apply to become a foster carer.