Education and education institutions play a huge role in a young person’s life – it is usually where young people spend the majority of their time. It is where young people learn and grow and develop their personal and social skills, therefore, it is important that education environments are places where young people feel supported and valued. This is especially important for young people with care experience who may have had their lives, education and location disrupted due to placements or circumstances. Being aware of some of the challenges that young people with care experience face is important in understanding the context of their actions, or lack of. Young people with care experience can sometimes exhibit social, emotional or behavioural challenges and will often be punished for these behaviours rather than supported to understand the underlying causes. This can cause even more issues as young people withdraw from education which can exacerbate the barriers and issues that they should be supported to overcome. We need more support and understanding for our young people with care experience in our schools and beyond. They are deserving of it.
It is well documented that care experienced school leavers continue to have bigger attainment gaps than their peers and that young people with care experience are 7 times more likely to be excluded from school than their peers (Scottish Government, 2020). There are many reasons for this with disruptive placements and lack of support for care experienced people being just a couple of them. Improving the outcomes for our care experienced young people is an issue for wider society and Government policy but there are things that can help to support our young people in education, such as:
A trauma informed approach – Understanding trauma and how it affects our thoughts and behaviours is crucial in helping young people understand and process their own traumas.
An understanding of mental health issues and signs to spot – to offer support and advice to young people who may be going through mental health issues that can affect their engagement in education.
Positive relationships with teachers and staff – Staff that understand young people, youth culture and show that they care about their students in a way that is positive and encouraging for young people.
Individualised learning options – Everyone learns differently, and not everyone is suited to classroom style learning, offering alternatives can removed a barrier for people.
Guidance counsellor – Who is approachable and accessible to young people throughout their time in education and who will build and maintain relationships with young people.
A safe space – for young people to go to if they are feeling overwhelmed or need some space.
These are only suggestions, there are many things that need to change socially and culturally in our society to remove the barriers faced by care experienced young people. Still, the relationships that exist between young people and teachers and staff can be hugely beneficial if the relationships are encouraging and supportive. Having positive role models who care and listen should be the norm for all of our young people, especially young people who may have faced difficulties and disruption in their lives, due to no fault of their own. More changes are needed to best support young people with care experience in education. However, the more than we learn and know about the context of their experiences, they better we can support them to succeed in school and beyond.
Some things you can do to better support young people in education as a professional and as an individual are:
Training – in trauma/childhood adversity and the effects this can have on young people.
Look after yourself – you will not be the best you can be if you are overworked or dealing with your own issues.
Engage parents/carers – for the agreements and evaluations for educational support of young people with care experience.
Raising aspirations – through access to high quality and inclusive educational experiences.
These are only some ideas – there are many things we can do practically and emotionally to better support young people with care experience. Engaging the people that are directly and indirectly involved in the care of the young person will allow you to have a better understanding of them and provide an insight into the context of their experiences.
Here you can find a report by the Scottish government on some approaches to take in supporting young people with care experience in school.
You can also access training in different areas through the health improvement training, these are mostly online and free.