How to support adopted children in your classroom

by | Jan 26, 2021 | Classroom Practice, Pupils, Wellbeing | 2 comments

Adoption, adopted children and their behaviour is something I often support and am questioned about. I have wanted to host a blog on this topic for a while, so was delighted when Alexandra, @babytismoffire, and I connected on twitter recently. 

Alexandra is the perfect expert on this; she is an adoptive parent and a teacher, giving us a great insight from all perspectives.

Often adoptive children fall into negative statistics, with additional needs that are not recognised or catered for, they can sometimes slip through the cracks.

This blog gives you insight and practical actions to ensure that is not so.

Children are children, and it is important as teachers and educators to remember that.  But, at the same time, it is important to know and acknowledge that some children will have experienced more in their young years than many adults will have done in their entire lifetime.  

Now, that is not a hyperbolic statement: it is fact.

For many ‘Looked after Children’ and ‘Post-LAC’ aka adopted children, their short lives will have been filled with rejection, loss, neglect, abuse, all culminating in early life trauma that can have an impact on behaviour, self-image, building and maintaining relationships, and perceptions of trust.  As educators we have to not just ‘be aware’ of this, but we have to make a conscious decision to acknowledge it and modulate our behaviours accordingly when we are communicating with our Looked After Children and Adopted Children.

But what does this look like?

We need to start by looking at behaviour as being a consequence not a cause.  We need to acknowledge that the cause may not be something that we know or that we can impact, but the behavioural show is something that we can support our young people in navigating.

And what can schools do?

Dealing with the behaviour cannot simply be about giving time out: it cannot be as simple as ‘removing them from the situation’ and as educators we need to be cognisant of the impact that this could have on the young person. 

For a lot of children who have experienced early childhood trauma they will view time out as exclusion, rather than opportunity to support them in regulating their behaviour.  That does not mean that we ‘stop giving time out’, it means that we must reframe it and be disciplined with it.  ‘Time out/in’ can look different for our young people.  Rather than issuing the command ‘get out’ or ‘go and stand outside’, try ‘can we just stand outside for a moment’ then take the time to explain why their behavioural response is not appropriate and then empower then to return to the room when they are ready – giving them a clear instruction of ‘I am going to give you a few minutes to calm down: when you are ready, please come back in.’ 

Another option is to give them a ‘safe space’ to go to when they are being directed towards time-out/in: this could be the pastoral office, library, a safe space within a classroom, etc. somewhere that is pre-determined before it is ever needed.  It is important that the young person does not see themselves as being unwanted or bad, but that their behaviour needs to be adjusted and that they also need time to take a moment so that they are able to reintegrate in a way where they can feel in control of their behaviour, rather than their behaviour being in control of them.  It is also important that ‘time-out/in’ is not used solely as discipline, it is offered to students as a way for them to be able to regulate their own emotions and behaviours: this could involve a ‘time-out/in’ card whereby students can go to a support hub within the school so they can manage and regulate their emotions with ‘safe nurturing people around them’ so that they can seek support in their self-regulation if needed.

Part of how we support our young people in managing their behaviour is about how we build relationships with them, and sometimes that can be the hardest part of our job.  

For a moment, imagine what relationships could have been like for Looked After Children and Adopted Children. 

Your parents say that they love you, but they may choose addiction or abusive partners over you; they may say that they love you, but they have neglected and abused you.  You get taken from your parents care and placed into foster care.  Your parents make some changes, and you return to your parents.  Everything is Ok for a while and then the destructive, abusive, neglecting behaviours continue.  You are removed from the care of your parents again and put into the care of new foster carers.  This cycle may repeat a few more times before a judge decides that you should be placed for adoption or remain in long term care.  

Relationships for some young people are not seen as secure or even safe, they may not trust you or believe you, so as a teacher you need to become a constant – even when their behaviours are at their worst; when their world is chaotic and insecure, full of changes and no expectations, be the person who is consistent and constant with expectations that are achievable and ambitious: they are not defined by the terrible hand they have been dealt, but full of the potential of the future.  If they push (metaphorically) stay put, they need it.  It is only when they have pushed and pushed and pushed and realise that you have gone nowhere that they will feel secure enough to trust you.

We need to remember, that children who have experienced early life trauma may have no idea what triggers their behaviours or emotions, they may struggle to understand them, and they may not be able to articulate why they are responding the way they are, it is therefore so important that we, as educational professionals, that we take time to learn and understand about being ‘trauma aware’ and show support to our young people by being kind and nurturing whilst maintaining and establishing boundaries.  Being aware of behaviour triggers, and putting provision in place to help our young people to regulate, does not mean that we excuse their behaviours, what it means is that we need to create boundaries that are fair and consistent, clear and transparent, but within that, we support our Looked-After Children and adopted children to navigate and manage their emotions.

How we support our Looked After Children and Adopted Children is not limited to how we support behaviour, it has to go as far as the language that we use, the curriculum choices we make, the ethos we foster within our schools and the engagement we have with parents and carers.

Make sure that when talking about family: all formations are acknowledged as normal.  Do not allow adoption to be used as an insult to suggest that a young person is not wanted.  Find positive representations of Foster Care and Adoption within your subjects, especially if you teach a Looked After Child and/ or an adopted child.  

Finally, please make sure that your engagement with parents and carers is positive. 

They have travelled a journey, that as a school you will not be privy to: they may be cautious, guarded or combative based on previous experiences of having to advocate and fight for their child, especially if their child has an EHCP which hasn’t been supported.  They will be the expert in their child and in the trauma that their child may have experienced, they will be their child’s protector and advocate, and they will want the best for them.  Work with them!  Remember that behaviours are consequences not a cause.  If you are open, honest, and supportive, then parents and carers will feel that their child is being supported and their guards will start to come down.  All they want is to be able to work with you.  Some parents will be open and may trust you with information about their child: you must make sure that you protect that information and use it to support their child.  The key to engaging with parents and carers is to make sure that the lines of communication are open, honest, and supportive.

I will go back to my original statement ‘Children are children… But, at the same time, it is important to know and acknowledge that some children will have experienced more in their young years than many adults will have done in their entire lifetime.’ So, next time you walk into your classroom and track down your list of students and notice that a child is in care or has been adopted, think about whether you should change anything.

Your parents say that they love you, but they may choose addition or abusive partners over you; they may say that they love you, but they have neglected and abused you.  You get taken from your parents care and placed into foster care.  Your parents make some changes, and you return to your parents.  Everything is Ok for a while and then the destructive, abusive, neglecting behaviours continue.  You are removed from the care of your parents again and put into the care of new foster carers.  This cycle may repeat a few more times before a judge decides that you should be placed for adoption. 

Relationships for some young people are not seen as secure or even safe, they may not trust you or believe you, so as a teacher you need to become a constant – even when their behaviours are at their worst; when their world is chaotic and insecure, full of changes and no expectations, be the person who is consistent and constant with expectations that are achievable and ambitious: they are not defined by the terrible hand they have been dealt, but full of the potential of the future.  If they push (metaphorically) stay put: they need it.  It is only when they have pushed and pushed and pushed, and realise that you have gone nowhere that they will feel secure enough to trust you.

To find out more about Alexandra’s work please visit her website here – https://babytismoffire.wordpress.com/

To follow her on twitter click here – @babytismoffire

As a thank you for Alexandra’s Guest blog a donation has been made to the charity of her choice, The Children’s Society.

2 Comments

  1. Ingrid Dover-Vidal

    Looking forward to receiving some useful ideas to enhance my teaching practice in the classroom, to ensure better outcomes for all students, and to preserve my own positive mental health.

    Reply
    • Adele Bates

      Yes! Thanks Ingrid, that one’s coming soon… join my Inspiring Educator community to ensure you don’t miss it – http://bit.ly/2OyYqEr

      Reply

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