Park Fostercare have been thinking as an agency what we might need to do when we come out of lockdown and how we could do this safely. Along with these thoughts have been to consider the positive impacts of lockdown and the new ways of working that we might want to incorporate into our future working.
I have been particularly struck by the amount of people from different agencies I have spoken to who are seeing really positive impacts on the children in placement. The vast majority appear so much more settled in placement without the pressures of attending school. This is not because they haven’t been doing school work. Some carers have found children being given work from school that is way beyond what they can manage. Other carers have found the work set is far too easy for the children and have been able to request more challenging work. Still others have been doing much more practical projects such as gardening, baking and arts and helping with jobs which have used mathematics and English skills in a more practical way.
Some carers have found their children who are very oppositional at school, one having restraints up to four times per day, show none of this behaviour in the home, are actually enjoying completing work with their carers at home and are coming on in leaps and bounds. A situation was recently shared where a young person had a really positive Personal Education Plan (PEP) meeting where they attended virtually and were praised for the way they were working so well with the teacher during virtual teaching sessions.
As an agency, Park is seeking to recognise the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACES) on children’s lives. We have recognised for a long time that our children are unable to access education until they are able to engage their ‘thinking’ brain. Many of our children are often operating in their ‘primitive’ brain (fight, flight, freeze) so cannot even begin to access education as it is currently provided. This means they often fall through the gaps in the main education system.
When they are at home they are in an environment where they feel safe and supported which goes a long way to helping them engage educationally. I am not suggesting that all our children should be home schooled but I think there needs to be further exploration and creative thinking particularly when children are really struggling with accessing education in the school setting.
I think it is important that we gather the evidence from this lockdown period in terms of how children have responded to different educational approaches as this could be very useful in considering how we could think creatively about how we provide approaches that support our young people to achieve.
We have also seen young people begin to make disclosures about their pre-foster care lives. In one instance a young person has been able to be really clear about something that happened to her when previously she had not been able to do so. We don’t know whether this has been due to the concentrated time she has spent with her foster carer during lockdown that has given her the space to do this. She is a young person who finds the school environment very stressful.
In terms of working practices we have used Zoom for supervisions and other visits as well as engaging with children. It is clear that children and young people live their lives on social media and X Box live platforms, and are often very comfortable with communication in this way as it feels normal to them. We need to consider this in terms of how we engage with them in the future.
In terms of virtual visits to foster carers and virtual support groups these have been a great way to keep in touch with carers and because the times are more flexible and we have had evening groups, second carers have been able to attend as well which they have commented on enjoying. While we would seek to return to meeting up once the lockdown ends we will be considering the options of using Zoom for some supervision visits and some support groups to make these more accessible to all carers.
We have also conducted panels via Zoom which has worked very well. When carers are coming quite a distance this may be an option we would consider using more in the future. Using virtual panels and visits cuts down on our carbon footprint also which is better for the environment, something we all need to consider for our children’s future.