Adjusting to the school routine can be challenging for foster families. Whether a looked after child has moved into a new year group or has changed schools altogether, there are plenty of challenges for both the carer and the child. Things like making friends and managing schoolwork can be much more difficult for children in care, so it’s vital that foster carers offer the right support and guidance throughout this formative period.
To help new foster carers manage the demands of the back-to-school routine, we recently spoke with a current NFA foster carer about her experience of helping children settle into school. Norma is an experienced foster carer who currently looks after two secondary school-aged children, and who has previously taken care of younger children.
Here, we share the insights and advice we gathered from our conversation with Norma in the hope it can give other foster carers practical help when looked after children return to school or change schools altogether.
1. Take a Proactive Approach
Recognising the challenges looked after children can face during the first few weeks of a new school term is the key to helping them manage the situation. Norma believes that, through a proactive approach, foster carers can make a real difference to how smoothly this transition goes, and how easily children are able to settle into the new routine.
She says: “It really comes down to being proactive, prepared and understanding the needs of your child. Carers need to work on developing a strong relationship with children in their care so that they’re more able to recognise and prevent potential problems.”
The measures you take to be more proactive will differ depending on the needs of your child, but Norma suggests some of the ways you can do this in the points below.
2. Build a Strong Relationship with the School’s Pastoral Support Team
The majority of primary and secondary schools have pastoral support teams in place to bridge the gap between school and home life, and work closely with foster carers to make sure that children get the support they need in school. For Norma, building a strong relationship with these support workers has been crucial in ensuring that her children feel safe and supported, and that any problems are dealt with swiftly.
Before the new school year starts, Norma recommends contacting the school to arrange a face-to-face discussion with the pastoral support team. Of course, this can be done once term starts, but it’s a good idea to do this early so that any strategies or learning requirements can be put in place.
Once you’ve built this relationship, you’ll have an immediate point of contact; someone to talk to should you or your child have a problem. Developing this relationship early in the school year will give you peace of mind that your children are receiving the right level of help and support.
3. Always Make Sure They Have the Right Equipment and Resources
Looked after children may be more vulnerable to bullying than others, so as a foster carer it’s important to help them fit in as much as possible. While it can be very difficult to prevent the onset of bullying, simple things like always making sure they have the right equipment and resources for school, such as stationery and books, will help them to feel more confident going into their lessons.
On this point, Norma adds: “You do need to invest in the right school equipment for your child, and liaise closely with teachers and pastoral staff to make sure they have everything they need. They might not feel confident asking you for things, so make sure you take a proactive approach to little things like this.”
4. Liaise with the School to Develop Tailored Coping Strategies for Your Child
Depending on the specific needs of your child, you may need to work with school staff to develop coping strategies that will help them to feel more comfortable. Doing this early will enable them to settle into the routine and could prevent them from developing anxieties about having to go to school.
Thanks to close ties with pastoral staff, Norma has been able to arrange a ‘Timeout’ strategy card for her children. This excuses them from lessons so that they can seek the help of support staff, and has been helpful in reassuring her children that both she and the school have their interests at heart.
5. Develop a Strong and Organised Morning Routine
Mornings can be stressful, but it’s important not to let any disorder get the better of you, as this can have a knock-on effect and make your child feel more anxious about the school day ahead. Norma thinks that having a strong and organised morning routine can work wonders in helping children approach school more positively, removing any additional stress and helping them start the day off on the right foot.
She adds: “Mornings can be quite tricky, especially if your child goes to a school that’s a long way away. However, the drive can be quite a relaxing time, especially if you give the children tablets or let them watch something; it’s a good way of allowing them some ‘me time’ before a busy day.”
6. Give them Ownership Over Their Time and Routine
When looking after older children, letting go of the reins slightly to give them more ownership of their time and routine can help them find their feet and adjust to the demands of school on their own terms. This also shows trust, which is crucial in helping you to bond with your child as they go through their formative and challenging teenage years.
Norma agrees and believes that even small gestures can help older children readjust to the demands of the school week and take some ownership of their routine. For instance, she often lets her children make their own lunch for school so that they feel engaged and in control of their day. Simple things like this can be really helpful in demonstrating trust and helping young people to start to find their independence.
7. Don’t be Afraid to Request Additional TA Time for Your Child
Taking a proactive approach to your child’s education gives a clear picture of their learning and development, and will help you to recognise areas where they might need additional support. Children rarely acknowledge when they need help and are even less likely to ask for it, so it’s up to you to monitor their learning and take action when you feel something could be amiss.
Norma suggests that foster carers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for additional TA (teaching assistant) support if they believe their child could be falling behind in lessons. Most schools should be happy to provide this, so it all stems back to developing a close relationship with support staff to make sure your child’s needs are being met when the new term begins.
8. Offer the Right Support with Homework
Children at all stages of education tend to receive more homework than in previous years, and yet their enthusiasm for it hasn’t risen with the amount. Few children enjoy spending their free time on homework, but with the right support and guidance, it doesn’t have to be such a chore.
For Norma, the internet has been an invaluable resource in helping her children complete their schoolwork, with lots of guides that help make it more interesting and appealing. She also suggests that carers sit and help their children with homework wherever possible, as this will enhance their learning and help you to bond over a task which is often seen as a negative.
9. Familiarise Younger Children with What School Entails
While this point is more applicable before the school year starts, we think it’s a great strategy that could help foster carers to prepare their children for the start of a new school term.
Previously, when looking after younger children, Norma has taken the time to sit with them to look over the website of the school they’ll be attending. She believes that familiarising young children with pictures and information about the school can be beneficial in allaying their fears and instilling them with a sense of excitement for what awaits when they head to the school gates for the first time.
10. Recognise that Every Child Adjusts to Things Differently
While we’re confident that the above advice will be of great help to many foster families, it’s important to remember that children adjust to situations differently and that the same strategies may not work for every child.
Here’s a final note from Norma on the best way to approach managing the back-to-school routine: “Above anything else, all you have to do is show that you have their back, that they’re cared for, and that they can go to bed knowing that you’re doing your very best for them. After that, it’s all a matter of intuition and taking each day as it comes.”
We’d like to thank Norma for taking the time to offer us her view on how best to manage the back-to-school routine. For information on fostering with the NFA or to read more help and advice guides, visit our homepage today or call our team on 0800 044 3030.