In my previous post I wrote about a meeting between the Virtual Headteacher in our county and a large group of adoptive parents, all angry that schools did not appear to understand their childrens’ needs. I had a significant response on twitter and by email. There are clearly more angry adoptive parents out there who would love to have their five minutes with a Virtual Headteacher (or even a real one).
So for all of you here is what we did in our county to raise the profile of adopted children in schools and to improve the service they receive.
A few of us ‘angries’ and the county Educational Psychologist formed a working group. Together we decided that our children, with their parents agreement, need to be identified to schools, monitored and supported, similar to the way that children in care are.
Now I know that not all parents want their children identified as adopted, I on the other hand would wear the t-shirt, hat and car sticker (but that’s a blog post for another day). It is safe to say though that the majority of children, whether adopted from the care system, from overseas or from within families will have experienced broken attachments and worse and will need additional support in school to prevent their early experiences from becoming a barrier to learning.
The six of us met in various dusty halls and cramped meeting rooms, in far flung parts of the county, over many months. What grew out of our meetings was, not very excitingly, a form. But education runs on systems and forms, so we thought we would demand a piece of the action.
The form is called the EPAC - Education Plan for Adopted Children. It requires a meeting at the school between staff, social worker and parent. It lays out the basics of the child’s early experiences, their moves into and within the care system and their adoption. After this initial meeting, the EPAC is produced and then updated regularly at follow-up meetings.
The system prompts discussion about how the child presents themselves, their fears, needs and challenges. It demands actions with clear owners. It informs the school and empowers the parent.
The form was successfully trialled in parts of our county and then rolled out across all our schools. It has been received well. Of course any system which is not required by law, stands or falls on the willingness of those people involved in it to make it work. It will not transform a school who demonstrates no wish to understand attachment issues. But it provides some authority and legitimacy. It says that parents are not seeing ghosts and that their children are not merely ‘naughty’ and badly parented.
This morning I went to my first EPAC meeting at my son’s new secondary school. The school is situated in a different county to the one in which we live (and the one in which the EPAC was born). But the school welcomed it with open arms and already see many opportunities to use it with other pupils. Our meeting was very fruitful. We all learnt something and many useful actions came from it. I left there knowing that the school have a much better understanding of my son. I hope the staff feel that I have something to offer them too.
I know from experience that the next five years will present many challenges. I also know that key to my son’s successful school career is a collaborative approach to his education, with adults around him who are willing to listen and learn and to understand his needs. Many of us know the trajectory that these children, if failed, can follow so the stakes we are playing for are high. But if ‘Every Child Matters’ is to be more than an empty phrase, it is time that educators and politicians stopped fighting with adoptive parents and recognised that early trauma and broken attachments have left our children with specific needs that must be met in schools. So if I was Queen of Education, I would develop and roll out a national EPAC with guidance notes and training for all teaching staff. I could do it on a small budget and just think of all the money and heartache it could save. Go on Mr Gove, give me a shot at it.
PS If anyone would like a copy of the EPAC documents please contact me via this website and I will email them to you. You can use a false name and your details will NOT appear anywhere.