Chloe* moved in with foster carer Sue* last July, after the 13-year-old’s previous placement broke down.
“[The local authority] promised me she’d be in school by September,” says Sue.
But Chloe is still without a mainstream school place today and there is no certainty she will have one this September – more than a year after she moved.
Sue describes her foster daughter as a “golden” child, as “bright as a button”. But when she tried to get Chloe into a nearby secondary school, her record at her previous school – the consequences of a “devastating” family rejection – meant that she was rejected all over again.
Recounting Chloe’s experience at her last school, Sue says: “She was in a bad place – she’d just been rejected by her mum; they’d had contact but her mum decided not to see her any more. For a [then] 12-year-old, that’s devastating.”
The rejection had an understandable but damaging impact on Chloe’s behaviour. She swore, answered back, slapped another pupil, and was temporarily excluded four times.
“It doesn’t sound like the child I know,” says Sue. “She’s been golden for me. She’s a totally changed child since she settled.”
But Chloe’s previous behaviour was documented in a school report. And Sue believes that was what led to her rejection from the local secondary. “They didn’t even try to speak to us before making up their minds,” she says.
And so a child supposed to be given the “highest priority” for a school place was left without one. From September to November, Chloe was home-schooled for one hour a week by a tutor. Then, for the next month, she received no education at all.
Sue, who also has a son with learning difficulties, had to give up her part-time job to look after Chloe during the daytime.
The intensity of the pair being around each other all day added to Chloe’s frustrations at moving to a new area where she had no friends, and it put pressure on her relationship with Sue.
“At one point I was thinking of giving up fostering altogether,” Sue admits.
Then, in January, a place was found for Chloe – not at a mainstream school, but at an independent alternative provider an hour’s drive away.
The school has a “therapeutic focus” but also offers lessons in maths, English and science from 9.30am to 1pm each day.
But Chloe wants to do much more. “She’s bright as a button,” says Sue. “She doesn’t have any learning difficulties.
“Even though she’s in Year 8, she’s working at Year 9 level. She wants to do art, which she loves, and RE and geography.”
And while the local authority pays for a taxi to take her there, the driver’s “personal commitments” mean he cannot get her to school before 10am, says Sue. So Chloe regularly misses out on 45 minutes of education each day.
She’s also missing out on social benefits. While Chloe has managed to make new friends at a local youth club, she is currently the only girl in her year group at school.
They have complained to the local authority and hope that a mainstream school place can be found by September.
“She will have been out of full-time education for a year,” says Sue. “She feels very angry at times, and let down by the system.”
*Not their real names. Sue is a foster carer with TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust)