Monday 16 May 2016

A Guest Blog: Once Upon a Time

by Abbe McLatchie

Once upon a time there was a child who was very sad.  Their mummy and daddy were not able to be good parents to them and they experienced trauma every day.  One day the special social work people swept in on their white steed and rescued the sad child.  From then on the child was loved and cared for in a calm family, they went to school every day and everything was perfect for them from then on in.

If only this was the case for our children.  The children that we foster come from scary and scared, anxious and angry, unsettled and unstable backgrounds, and the love and care we pour into them does go SOME way to beginning to repair and soothe their trauma, but it is not a magic potion.

The trauma that our children experience is far reaching and has phenomenal impact.  If a child has a broken leg, or bruises – physical manifestations of their damage and pain – then it seems that people are far more willing to understand and engage with this to put things in place to support a child in school.  Broken ankle and twisted knee?  No problem, leave classes five minutes early to miss the rush.  Access the canteen before other pupils.  Spend playtime in the library with your favourite friend and a grown up.  Broken heart and attachment disorder?  Stop being so naughty.  Get on with it.  ‘There is no reasonable reason for your child’s behaviour Mrs…’

As a foster parent, your heart sinks whenever the schools number shows up on your phone.  It is very rarely to tell you how fabulous they’ve been this week.  Far more likely is a request to collect early as they’ve had ‘an episode’.

What schools and teachers don’t often understand is how to adapt their processes to help meet the needs of our children.  Punishing and shaming a traumatised child is like painting a puddle – pointless and messy. 
I don’t necessarily blame teachers.  Class sizes of 30+, new fangled behaviour management strategies coming down from the powers that be, assessment for assessment sake and a range of different coloured pens with a code to remember…teaching is a hard job as we should never forget that.  But if my child was dyslexic you would differentiate the learning materials.  If my daughter had a visual impairment you would produce larger font resources and sit her nearer the front of the class.  If my boy had a bladder disorder you’d give him a toilet pass.  Why, oh why can’t you take the time as a whole school approach to listen to me when I tell you how to help my little ones manage their anxiety before the chair gets thrown?  How to give praise in a way that doesn’t induce a swearing spitting meltdown in public view.  How to help them to find a way to tell the truth that doesn’t include acrimonious accusations of lies that they probably don’t even know why they’ve told.

As foster parents we have a huge responsibility in advocating in education on our children’s behalf.  Helping teachers to understand the impact of trauma – and how to help children learn in spite of this – is critical to giving our children a fighting chance for life outcomes.  Sharing articles, resources, knowledge, experience and understanding is invaluable. It makes for happier children, happier teachers and happier schools.  Surely that is a goal that we all want to work towards.  Maybe someone should mention this to the education minister as a priority rather than tests for tests sake.  Just a thought.

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