Looked-after children often have to change schools, but there are ways to minimise strain. Felicity Waters reports
Children in local authority care are suffering serious disruption to their education, with up to 30 per cent of youngsters going through more than one change of school in some areas of Wales.
Last year more than 15 per cent of looked-after children across Wales experienced at least one school move during the time they were in care.
Young people fared worst in Denbighshire where nearly three in 10 had to change schools more than once in 20045. Around a quarter of those in care had the same experience in Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd and Merthyr.
"The effects of changing school can stay with you for the rest of your life," said Professor Marion Kloep, of the department of psychology at the University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd.
"These children are already damaged, and further disruption to school life not only contributes to underachievement but also impinges on their ability to trust others, and form stable relationships later in life."
Most local authorities have set a target to reduce the number of looked-after children who have to go through changes of school to around 10 per cent by 2007. Denbighshire has a target agreed with the Assembly government to cut its number to 15 per cent this year and to 10 per cent by 2007. But a spokeswoman said: "A year-on-year reduction of 5 percentage points is not always possible."
She added: "Everything possible is being done to keep children in the same school but this is sometimes impossible. Many of these moves are for positive reasons, such as moving to an adoption placement, or to access specialist provision."
Looked-after children in Conwy, just a few miles away, have a far more secure environment for learning. Just 5 per cent of children in its care had to change schools last year. Children are encouraged to remain in foster care when they reach 16 to minimise the risk of change, and few children are placed outside the county. If a child has to move to a different family, they can be bussed to the same school wherever possible.
Being forced to change schools could have had dire consequences for one little boy, who had to be taken from his family due to alcohol abuse and neglect, according to Eilir Jones, Conwy's education co-ordinator. The child, who is now in Year 5, was also separated from his sister, who had to be placed in a different foster home. He then risked losing his school because of his bad behaviour.
"This child had grave behavioural difficulties because he was so angry and upset by the rejection," said Mr Jones, a former teacher who works closely with children in care and the schools they are placed in.
"The school could easily have turned him away, but instead it gave him a special-needs teacher and one-to-one sessions with a literacy support co-ordinator.
"This little boy is now much happier, you wouldn't know him, and he is well on track for moving up to secondary school."