Can you remember being in the last year of upper or secondary school? You spend the whole of your school life wanting to be one of the big kids in school. When you get there all of a sudden its exams, exams and more exams. For many young people in key stage 4 this is a difficult time of the year. As they wait to leave school and start on their next major stage of life.
I can still remember it well, worrying whether I would get the grades I needed to go to University or even if I would be able to cope alone and succeed. However, with many of the young people I work with, this is even harder as a looked after child. For many 16 is a major number, it means to them a freedom from being in care, freedom to make more choices for themselves and a time when they should be learning who they are. For many this dream can not happen as they remain on Care Orders until they are 18 years old.
So already when it comes to this important age the young people are already worrying about exams and their school prom. Many end up worrying about “Where will I live” “Can I go home” or “Who am I”. Meaning that revising for exams, attending exams is a low priority when wanting to be at home with their family, or out with their friends who they have adopted as their family.
New changes in the care regulations makes it clear that there should be no planned moves in this year, and where there has to be changes they should only be agreed by the Nominated officer. This possibly is a start to try and protect many young people from failing in their exams by adding unnecessary pressure on to the young person.
Looking back at this week I have seen this real pressure and dilemma, where a young girl is suffering from a pull with her family. Wanting to be at home, but knowing her Mum does not want her there. But at the same time not knowing whether to trust her Mum or Social Care. Her Mum continues to rage a battle at Social Care for removing her Children; and now trying to remove the younger siblings for the same reasons of emotional abuse and neglect.
The power and way in which this is done by the mother is very simple and effective to undermine her placements (more than one) and place doubt in her mind as to who she can trust. There is also an unwillingness to engage or give permission for Life story work to be done to help the young person understand the loss of her father, who she never knew and young siblings that were adopted. This is important as her mother has reminded her that it was her fault that they were adopted! and as a four year old how is this possible. Instead the Mum has lead her daughter to believe it was her fault.
So when I received an office visit I knew that something was wrong. And I was right, immediately her emotional distress was obvious. “I have an exam tomorrow, and at the moment I am so angry” “I don’t know who to believe, and I don’t know where to live” was common theme as she sobbed in the quiet room. I reassured the young person and spent time listening to her allowing her to talk to me, trying to help put the events into perspective for her to be able to manage and understand. Knowing really that this could not easily be swept under the carpet to allow her to be refreshed and prepared for her exam.
It is worrying that for this young person at a time where life is already difficult it is made harder unnecessarily. We are lucky to have a team of teachers that helps children in care with their learning. Dedicated teachers who are very experienced in working with schools, parents, foster carers and other resources in providing the best education support each young person needs.
I worry because this is now a vulnerable resource, with the change in EMA and government funding most of the money that this team would have received now goes straight to colleges or schools (academy’s). It is then down to the them how this money is spent. Which for many young people, if you have been able to get through all of the above and manage to get to college do you really want to disclose that you are a looked after child? meaning there could be a lot more children slipping through the net and not getting the support needed.
Good planning is needed for any young persons education and life, often young people will not be interested in another meeting. So with education being so rigid in its curriculum, the cuts to this team are very significant. The implication is that there will be a generation of looked after children who will continue to be vulnerable due to their lack of learning. With only a small minority going on to college, and even smaller number going on to Higher Education.