What schools should know about children in care

The adverse experiences that led to children entering the care system remain with them through school, says Fiona Aitken

What schools should know about children in care

In Scotland today we have a much greater understanding of the needs of care-experienced individuals.  Along with our growing understanding of the impact of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), research from the University of Stirling’s Permanently Progressing study informs us that over 80 per cent of children entering the care system in Scotland have experienced significant abuse and/or neglect (Cusworth et al, 2019).   

To fully understand the impact of early childhood trauma is to recognise the lifelong impact on a child, and the areas of vulnerability and disadvantage it creates.  Regardless of the child’s permanent placement – whether this involves returning home, being permanently placed in foster care, with kinship carers or an adoptive family – the adverse experiences that led to them entering the care system remain with them.  These experiences lead to needs displayed in a variety of ways requiring support. 

Supporting children in care

Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties most often show evidence of children’s needs – particularly inside the classroom, where particular skills are expected and peer comparisons obvious. These difficulties can come from a variety of different reasons; impact of early trauma, attachment difficulties, sensory processing challenges or behaviour typical of children who are living with the impact of alcohol taken during pregnancy – those living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).  For children who are care-experienced or adopted, it is extremely common to be managing one or more of these issues. 


WATCH: ‘Do not underestimate care-experienced children’

The figures: Revealed: The attainment gap for looked-after children

Opinion: 'End the silent crisis of looked-after children'

Adopted children in school: What you need to know

Long read:  How should schools respond to childhood trauma?


Responding to the acknowledged need of children in our classrooms, the Scottish government created a specific funding opportunity in 2018 to improve the educational attainment of Care Experienced Children and Young People. This funding has led to an increase in specific project delivery for this marginalised group of children, whose additional support needs can, at times, go unrecognised or unsupported. 

Across Scotland, we are increasingly aware of a variety of creative and impactful practice that is making a real difference. The implementation of "virtual headteachers", schools becoming more attachment-aware, trauma-informed and the increasing facilitation of outdoor learning opportunities are contributing to the creation of learning environments that are more attuned to the learning needs of our children.   

Adoption UK Scotland’s upcoming conference, Thinking Differently About Education, offers an opportunity for the showcasing of successful approaches, and for attendees to learn more about the benefit to children and schools of applying this different thinking.  Chaired by Nicky Murray, former headteacher of Burnside Primary School, which is renowned for its attachment-aware principles, the day will also feature a headline talk from author Louise Bombèr, expert on educational approaches for children affected by trauma. 

Attendees at the conference in Falkirk on Friday 6 December will also benefit from hearing directly from the minister of children and young people, Maree Todd, about the Scottish government’s hopes and intentions around the Care Experienced Children and Young People’s funding stream use.  We are also joined by the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Advisory Service, which will be launching an innovative education resource at the event.

The conference is for anyone working with, parenting or caring for a child who is care-experienced, and keen to learn new ideas for supporting their education.  Tickets can be found here.

Fiona Aitken is director of AdoptionUK Scotland

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