How can adopters get the balance right between therapeutic parenting and education? That’s the dilemma Chris @gay_dad_of_1 looks at in this article exploring his family’s journey to finding the right school for their son.

Trying to get that tough balance of therapeutic parenting and education….

Hi, I’m Chris, have been a dad to an amazing little boy nearly four years. Trying to get the balance right between supporting your child and schooling can be so difficult. Adopted children often find school difficult due to the complex traumas they experienced in their critical developmental times.

This trauma, such as PTSD, impacts not only their mental health and wellbeing but also on their ability to form relationships, and on their learning. Not all adopted children will need additional support whilst in school but for many, the trauma they experience causes behavioural difficulties which obviously impact on how the react to learning.

These behavioural issues can lead some schools to label children as ‘difficult’. However, the behaviours are actually indicators that the child struggling, and it is their way of asking for help. It takes time for adopted children to develop a secure attachment to their new parents and for them going into a new environment with different routines, boundaries and rules will trigger stress leading to feeling of anxiety.

Finding the right school

For my family we have had good times with our son’s school as well as some low points. Shortly before we were formally approved to adopt him, my husband and I were advised to look at schools in our area as we would be asked about schooling during the matching panel meeting.

I spent a couple of hours searching through our borough’s website finding local schools that were a short walk or drive from home. I started by looking at their website and then looking at the school’s policies, ensuring that things like their SEND and child protection provisions fit with what we were looking for. Ensuring that inclusivity and diversity are represented in the school were also hugely important to us.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

We gradually narrowed down the schools on our shortlist. Frustratingly, one school we liked and wanted to visit, wouldn’t let us come in to see them as it wasn’t within their visiting time frame. After a flurry of emails trying to arrange a visit, it was clear that this school were unwilling or unable to take into account our need to visit the school ahead of our matching panel.

This led me to question whether the school would be open to having a different approach to our future child. 

Visiting schools

We arranged a visit to the other school, which is our son’s current school. The moment we walked through the doors past the reception desk and saw the school, how happy the children were and how open the staff were with us, we knew this was the school for us.

We were given the opportunity to sit down with the headteacher and SENDCo to talk about the support they could provide for our potential son. This was amazing and filled us with confidence that they would be able to give him the right environment to grow. We found out about the school’s training and understanding on attachment as well as their experience with looked after children and previously looked after children.

The early years and KS1 years of my sons’ time at school were mostly fab. Over time this started to change so we met with his teachers to see how they could support him through this time. They were mostly receptive and put things in place like more check-ins with him or having a safe space for him to go to if he was struggling. They even implemented play therapy for him.

When there were problems, it took some time to get the teachers to tune in to him and find other ways of interacting with him when he was processing massive things like as the pandemic, life story work and reconnecting with his brother. This was frustrating and also causing me a lot of anxiety about him going into school when he was struggling as I wanted him to feel emotionally safe and secure in his environment.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Difficult times

The last two or so years have been quite difficult at times to get the balance of managing my little guy’s emotional and well-being needs and then his education. We have an informal agreement with his school that if he is struggling, we can try to get him in to school at some point during the school day whether this is half an hour later than the start of the school day or an hour before the end of the school day.

However, despite this informal agreement with the SENDCo and deputy head, we have frequently been notified of little man’s absence with quite tough letters, as well as him being on an attendance plan. His academic performance is amazing, and we are so proud of him for this. However, sometimes I feel schools in general, are focused on attendance and statistics rather than the child’s individual non-academic needs.

The need for a holistic approach

As a school governor, I do understand the reasoning for this. Funding is calculated on pupil attendance on a specific day in the year and all schools have targets to meet. But the one aspect that I will always bring up is that the reason for absence needs to be considered and that a holistic approach needs to be applied to support the child and their family.

Back in the summer my husband and I had a meeting at our son’s school with the SENDCo, Child Protection officer and the Virtual School to discuss how best to move forward and have a plan in place to support him with coming into school and dealing with any issues that occur during school times.

This academic year, despite some behavioural problems at school, he has been great. The deputy head in particular, has been incredible with him ensuring that little man sees school as a safe place and giving him a time in area and reassuring little man that he can always go to the office if he needs a chat. This has given our son the reassurance that he can seek help in school if he needs it, rather than his worries coming out in more troubling ways.

Communicating with school

What I have found helpful is to be open and honest with the school, remembering that you know your child better than the school. Children will often demonstrate their difficulties differently at home compared to other places as home and you, their parents, are their safe places.

It is so important to keep the lines of communication open with school, particularly when there are problems, as this will help in the long run. The virtual school have been incredible in supporting us to get the school on board with what needs to be in place to help with little man’s needs.

Charities such as Adoption UK, PAC-UK and First4Adoption are also amazing with useful resources for parents and schools. Young Minds is also fab for parents whose children have mental and wellbeing concerns; they also have great resources for schools.

Photo by Anton Sukhinov on Unsplash

Head over to the parenting section to read more articles about education and therapeutic parenting.


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