Counsel of perfection

17th February 2006 at 00:00
Children in care need extra support, but some schools are better at providing it than others. Felicity Waters reports

Tea and toast with the school counsellor is providing a lifeline to some pupils in Rhondda, but not every school is able to offer the extra support needed by children in care.

Porth county community school prides itself on supporting vulnerable children and has set up a Nurture Group, where pupils are able to talk about their problems in special sessions before and after school. Children are also given a "time out" card to leave any lesson early if they need help or advice.

The school has five children in the care of the local authority.

Initiatives such as a buddy scheme and the E3 after-school club, which provides snacks and free transport home, have also been beneficial to those who may not have the same stability in their personal lives as their peers.

Teacher Hilary Bowen, who has responsibility for child protection and liaising with outside agencies, said: "We find that if these children have a lot of support personally, they are then going to achieve more educationally.

"We had one child who didn't trust anyone at the start, but by building up a relationship with her she was able to discuss a lot of her problems.

Having unique responsibility at the school for these issues means I can give the children more of my time and I know the people to call if we need to access other services," she said.

Mike Lewis, of the Children in Wales charity, said that as well as personal education plans, all schools should now have a designated teacher to be an advocate for looked-after children, but provision varies across Wales. He said that while some schools welcome dealing with such pupils, others do not want the responsibility.

"We have spoken to teachers who say they have been given the role and want to do it, but they have not had training. Others say it's on top of other responsibilities and they are not offered the support to carry it out," he said.

Geraint Davies, of the NASUWT, union said it was a question of time and resources. "All teachers want to do their utmost to support these children and are prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that all children are properly catered for, but there is a limit to what can be done in the school week. It is all very well to say that all schools must have a designated teacher, but this role comes with responsibility and such statements need to be supported by hard cash."

Liz Camino runs a pupil referral unit in Flintshire that offers support for children with learning and behavioural difficulties. She said support in school is "absolutely key" to a child's development, but schools and teachers themselves also need multi-agency help.

"By the time children get referred to us, the school placement has already broken down," she said. "Many of these children are very disturbed, some have been abused and there is a lot of pressure on schools, but it is not just their responsibility."

The Assembly Government says it has invested more than pound;150 million in its Children First programme, set up six years ago following the Waterhouse report, Lost in Care. A further pound;45m is due to be invested this year to improve outcomes for children in need, including looked-after children and those leaving care.

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