Tuesday 17 May 2016

Guest Blog - Supporting adopted children in school: What works for us

By @sgsuzanneh

I’ve been teaching for 10 years and through that time I’ve supported lots of children who’ve suffered trauma who have either still been with their birth family, in care or adopted. I currently co-ordinate a life skills course for Sixth formers with SEND (Special Educational Need and Disability), all of who have additional needs and some of who are adopted or CLA. I’m also an adoptive parent of a now 18 year old. He went through the school that I teach in and held it together mostly to come out the other side with a good selection of GCSEs at level 1.
The big thing that works for all children is structure, routine, consistency and care. For children who’ve suffered trauma this is more important than ever to keep them feeling as safe as you possibly can in a school environment. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need shows that safety and meeting physical needs comes before the ability to learn. Hypervigilance is exhausting and leaves little brain activity for anything else.
Structure and routine are provided to young people so they know what is happening next. Surprises, even nice ones, are the worst thing ever for many of these children. It feels unsafe because they don’t know what will happen next, this is scary. How do they know if it will be something nice or something scary based on their previous experiences? Previous experiences are the only thing they have to go off when it comes to new experiences and what to expect.

Consistency and care are important to show young people that they are important. Dan Hughes talks about in a room of 50 people, the child whose suffered trauma will pick out the one face not smiling. They seem predisposed to only recognise negative experiences because of their early life experience, this knowledge can keep you safer than knowing who’s nice. You look out for danger!
  • We have the same adults all the time (TA and teachers) so that young people know the expectations and don’t have to worry about different expectations for different staff, it’s consistent within 7 adults as much as it can be.
  • Social time supported by the same two staff every day. We pick up on issues quickly as we’re ‘clued in’ to young people’s behaviour and emotional well-being.
  • No cover staff if teacher absent. The teacher will set the work and TAs supervise it being carried out.
  • Routine of timetable which is gone through every morning in registration so young people know what is happening for the day
  • Pre-warn of change (ie new people coming in, especially visitors)
  • I am key adult in the class room for the young people who are most vulnerable. I will work with them if we have visitors come in to work with the group.
  • TA’s have naturally picked up PLACE, tag teaming strategies
  • Families are important to consult and empower and I speak to families regularly with positives as well as concerns. This is done by text, email and through coffee mornings every six weeks. This means families keep us informed if things are tricky at home and we try to support in school but not take over. We also keep an extra eye on students at this time.
We’ve found that with putting in structure, routine, consistency and care most of the behaviour issues have been avoided but any that continue are dealt with using natural consequences. These include finishing work at lunchtime in a safe environment of the classroom, ‘time in’ with a safe adult for issues with other students so keeping them close rather than pushing them away and me being the only one to deal with them so they know what to expect and I can manage their anxiety through my knowledge of them and how they will react rather than a member of SLT (School Leadership Team) who don’t know them and who they don’t know.  In a worst case scenario with exclusions I go out to visit at home to do the reintegration meeting the night before. This means that young people don’t have to come back into a ‘hostile’ environment to be told the expectations again. They know they will get a positive reaction from us all when they return ‘hi glad you’re back, this is what we’re doing today’ kind of thing.
It doesn’t work for all but on the whole I’m proud of what we do and the difference that can make to young people’s lives.


  1. great blog S - can we clone you in every school - it is the attention to detail and consistency that enable young people to feel safe -Mair

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