Supporting the wellbeing of looked-after children
As one of several regional residential schools for looked-after children and children with SEMH run by the Outcomes First Group, Hillcrest Jubilee School tries to help them come to terms with their past and find a way to thrive in the world.
However, most looked-after children attend mainstream schools. What is the best way to support them?
Every child is different
Before we even consider issues that have arisen as a result of early life experiences, such as depression, anxiety, social isolation, and increased safeguarding vulnerability, the first thing to realise is that the emotional impact of being looked after can be significant.
Many children lack self-belief and self-esteem – they do not feel valued, with many having experienced high levels of rejection, disappointment and breakdowns in relationships with adults.
All pupils in a school want to feel they have a voice, but this is even more important for looked-after children
Many children are unable to deal appropriately with their emotions and communicate this through negative behaviour, making good pastoral support essential. For instance, they may need a safe place to go when they are struggling. Others are much more troubled than they may present, having become expert at hiding their needs and insecurities.
The key is to ‘see’ the individual child. They don’t wear a sign, so it is important that every teacher understands their background and needs and, as important, their dreams and aspirations.
These children need to feel secure, so relationships must be founded on positivity and trust. Celebrating their achievements and having a fresh start to each day will help them overcome feelings of rejection and negativity.
Of course, all pupils in a school want to feel they have a voice, but this is even more important for looked-after children, who have a driving need to be heard, respected and see the teacher or the school respond to what they are saying.
On the other hand, just because they are looked after does not mean that teachers should not expect the highest levels of behaviour, effort and outcomes from them, although they may need more support than other pupils to attain these.
Ideally, schools need to provide social, personal and emotional literacy learning opportunities in order to develop the whole child. These have to be more than quick interventions; pupils will need support after programmes have ended so that they are not left feeling abandoned once again, and become disaffected.
Work as a team
Unfortunately, many looked-after children suffer from inconsistency – if, for whatever reason, their placement is repeatedly changed, they may never get the chance to settle. This makes consistency another lynch pin in supporting them.
SENCOs will need to work closely with all the professionals supporting the child, including the child’s social worker, CAMHS therapists and carers, to ensure that these children receive the same message from all parties.
The termly team around the child meetings will offer a good opportunity to discuss the child’s ECHP, reflect on progress and identify what needs to change or be put in place to make the plan more effective.
If feedback is always negative, the child’s identity and self-image can be damaged
Meanwhile, in school, it is essential that this plan is communicated to everyone and consistently followed. One member of staff, for example, might think they are rewarding a child for good behaviour by letting them play with the others at break time when they usually go to the nurture area.
However, this kindness can result in such emotional overload that the child loses control and could end up with a fixed-term exclusion. In short, it is fine to adapt the plan, but it must be done in consultation with the rest of the team, so don’t allow staff to go off script!
Tips for managing behaviour
Disassociate behaviour from the child. If feedback is always negative, the child’s identity and self-image can be damaged and they end up thinking they are bad and worthless. It’s not the child who is ‘bad’ but the choice they have made. With support and the time to reflect, they will hopefully make a better choice next time.
Start each day afresh. Staff need to deal with mistakes a child has made on the same day, which will allow the child the opportunity to start with a blank slate the following day. This is one of the key ways we have turned children around at Jubilee School – we want pupils to feel positive about coming to school each day.
Consider therapeutic approaches. Especially good is PACE, developed by Dan Hughes to help adults work with children who have experienced trauma in their early years. PACE – playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy – is a way of thinking, feeling, communicating and behaving that helps troubled children start to look at themselves and start to trust.
This article is taken from Special Children Magazine, issue 241. PDF versions of the magazines are available to download in the My Account area under My Magazines for subscribers of the Knowledge Centre and Premium CPD.