Jo and Ste

It only seems like two minutes ago I was blogging about the impending dread of having to entertain the kids for the six weeks schools holidays, yet here we are, anticipating the start of the new school year in the next few days…
Are your kids ready for school? Are you ready for them to go back?
The answers to those questions may be ‘No’ and ‘Hell yes’ in that order, but do allow yourself the opportunity to think a little bit more deeply about what has been asked.
As a Foster Carer, there are some things that may be helpful for you to bear in mind as your child makes the transition to a new year-group, new class or even a new school at this time. Here are my five top tips for making sure that the start of the new school year begins as smoothly as possible at what can be a daunting time for even the most settled of children and young people:
1. Make sure you know who the designated Looked After Child (LAC) lead teacher is within the school. Every school should have one if there is a LAC on roll. This will be a regular member of staff who has additional responsibility, knowledge and authority over anything that your child may need or be faced with during the school year. Don’t be afraid to request a meeting with that staff member to ensure you are happy that they are best supporting your child – and you. Remember that the member of staff in question may never have needed to meet or work with your child previously, so it’s beneficial to all parties for you to meet now.

1. Meet with your child’s new class teacher (primary school) or Head of Year (secondary school) in the first instance. This person will be your key contact should any issues arise regarding your child, so it pays to make yourself known to that teacher and to build a good relationship with them so that everybody is ‘in the loop’ with any news, issues or developments. It would be a mistake to ‘hold out’ for the attentions of a previous class teacher or Head of Year, as they will have been given other responsibilities since your child moved on, and will no longer necessarily hold the same authority within the school for being the best advocate for your child, no matter how great they were previously. As a former teacher myself, I’ve been there. We want to stay involved and support your child, but sometimes, bureaucracy just gets in the way of that.

1. Listen to your child and observe their behaviour in the days leading up to the new school year. What are their insecurities? What are their fears? What are their triggers for certain negative reactions (if any) when they think about, talk about, or attend school? This is an unsettling period, so you may need to spend some extra time with your child to discuss or work through these issues. This will especially be the case if they don’t actively express to you that there is a problem in the first place. Trust in what you witness, and act on it.

1. In the days leading up to the new term, take any opportunity you can to ensure that your child can socialise with other children and peers. This might be at a sports club, church group, or activity centre, for example. This will build your child’s confidence within interaction, socialisation and adapting to new situations, and will show them the many positives that these skills and experiences can bring.

1. Most importantly, although you have enough stresses and financial pressures already, as all parents do, make sure that your child has the correct and full school uniform. Don’t be taking their word for it – check the school’s policy on the website if you have to. There’s nothing more unsettling than a child going through having attention drawn to something ‘different’ that could have been avoided with some careful planning and checking.

I hope that these pieces of advice help a little, or at least sound fair. Personally, I wouldn’t go back to school if you paid me, and I came from what society would deem as a ‘normal and settled’ background and family. The start of school can be such a worrying time all round, so do what you can to allay your child’s fears, and whatever you do, make sure that they don’t see that you too are worried.


The weather is dropping light hints that we may be ready for something of a summer season, and the kids are dropping much heavier hints that they are absolutely ready for a ‘schools out’ season.

The children are elated, the teachers are even happier still, and the parents and foster carers…? Well, they’d be lying if they said they weren’t to some extent dreading it.

Parents love their kids, of course, and relish any opportunity to spend time with them; watching them grow, develop and have fun. At this time of year, social media posts of fun family photographs get tagged with #MakingMemories and other such inspirational comments, but six weeks is a bloody long time, and even the most patient of parents needs a day off from this most precious of periods. Raising kids is one thing, but keeping them entertained is another thing entirely.

As foster parent, the pressure can be even more intense, as there is unlikely to be the kind of relationship in place where you feel you can just let your kids ‘get on’ with stuff. On one hand, you always feel a little guilty that the child in your care may have suffered neglect at times like this, and therefore ‘deserves’ to be showered with activities, events and trips out every day of the week. Entertaining or spoiling them isn’t your responsibility, though; helping them feel safe, loved and independent is.

Additionally, if the placement is very new, there will be that natural feeling that you really want the child in your care to settle with you and for them to like you, trust you and want to be with you. With those things in your thoughts, you will in fact drive yourself both crazy and into debt if you decide to journey along a path of constant entertainment planning for said child, whereby every day is a diarised list of things to do, places to go and people to see.

Whatever the parental status, and whatever the child’s situation, six week stimulation is unsustainable. With this in mind, I only have one piece of real advice for anyone with kids as we hit the school holidays this summer…

…don’t be afraid to let your children be bored!

I’m not going to get all psychological about this statement and philosophise you with studies or theories – although they are both out there! I simply state it as advice because I personally believe it to be good sense for two key reasons:

  1. The more activities, events, parties, trips and holidays you try to cram into a set period of time will each start to lose effect because the child in question will have nothing to compare them to. They will come to expect these constant ‘highs’ and this will make any downtime they unavoidably have to go through unbearable for you as they just won’t cope! They will learn to expect the buzz and thrill of constant activity and will lose the concept of free or regular time – and the skills they need to build to be resourceful, creative and independent.
  1. As an adult, you get bored. It sounds harsh, but it’s important that kids can build resilience early on to accept and deal with that feeling of boredom at least at some point in their childhood, because let’s face it, when they grow up and start work, the minute they decide they are thoroughly uninspired at their desk one day, nobody is necessarily going to whisk them off to DisneyLand.

I’m not saying leave your kids in a darkened room somewhere with no interaction or stimulus of any kind during the next six weeks, but instead what I mean is to remember that kids have a capacity to entertain themselves, and it’s both a life skill and a necessity for them to adapt to such scenarios. Let them make the decision to play out with friends and make up games and adventures; let them take the initiative to sit with toys they already have and make creative use of them; let them get involved with something that may help you out around the house or with work – it’s all positive interaction.

These coming six weeks are classed as a break, and you should benefit from that too, wherever possible.

In fostering, you’ll always be learning about the wider world of social care.  This is a great thing, as such knowledge is invaluable in terms of best advocating for any child in your care.

One of the things I learned about a while back was something called a Section 20 referral.  So, what does this phrase refer to?

A ‘Section 20’ referral is when a parent (or parents) voluntarily place their child into the care of Social Services.  I didn’t actually know you could do this, but like I said – always learning.

A parent cannot simply drop their child off at Social Services and that’s the end of it – responsibility absolved.  I have several friends who would definitely take that opportunity if it was on offer!  Instead, a parent must approach Social Services and give them grounds for accepting the fact that they can no longer – either temporarily or longer term – care for their child and subsequently need help.  This might be for a number of reasons on the part of the parent, such as that of a medical condition (physical or mental), issues of drug or alcohol misuse, or that of being unable to provide a safe, stable and secure home for the child to thrive within.  It’s not an exhaustive list.

In the case of our referred Section 20 child, the parents could no longer cope with the boy’s increasingly challenging behaviour.  It wasn’t down to finance, neglect, abuse or a medical condition of any kind – they simply could not deal with their son’s behaviour; whereby his aggression and life choices were having significant detrimental effects on the family’s physical and emotional well-being.  How can they look after their child if they are struggling themselves?  It’s a fair question.

The aim of a Section 20 referral is that ultimately the family will be in a position to reunite, and so you as the Foster Carer have a key role to play in changing not just a child’s life for the better, but also the lives of their whole family.  It’s up to you how you view this – a wonderful chance to save a family, or a daunting amount of responsibility?

There are many positives to taking on a Section 20 referral, but there are also a fair few negatives:

On one hand, the temporary nature of a Section 20 referral means it’s an excellent type of placement to start with or to take in between longer term placements.  On the other hand, there is nothing to stop the parents saying they never want to take their child back and they should stay with you – sad, but true.

A Section 20 referral child’s parents have made the voluntary decision to give up their child in the hope that somebody such as yourself can help them to ultimately re-build their family by supporting their child in a way they presently cannot.  Whilst it’s a wonderful thought that you could be instrumental in solving a family’s problems and ultimately reunite them one day, there is no guarantee that the parents will be able to completely accept everything you’re doing to make that happen, and could actually make things difficult for you.  I know that I would personally feel a lot of resentment if I saw someone else doing a better job of raising my own child than I could do.

With a case of a Section 20 referral, the child’s parents retain PR (parental responsibility). This is a positive thing because it means you don’t have the stress and emotion of completely uprooting the child and re-building their life from scratch, but it’s also negative when the child in question plays both sets of parental figures off against each other and feels like they can storm out and run away to go ‘back home’ every time they’re not happy with something you’ve done.

Ultimately, I don’t think I’d personally choose to take on a Section 20 referral again.  I believe in fresh starts, and I don’t think you can have that, or the chance at gaining the fullest possible bond, with a child who will possibly see you as the reason they’re not with their parents right now.

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