Just a Little Revolution

How many adopters does it take to change the world?

A couple of years ago now, adoptive parent and all-round superhero, Gareth Marr, wrote an article for The Adoption Social in which he called for an extension of the role of the Virtual School to cover adopted children as well as looked after children. Sadly, Gareth did not live to see that particular vision become a reality in the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

Gareth campaigned and talked and explained and persuaded and wrote letters and emails, patiently, persuasively and tirelessly. His was one of the pioneer voices in raising the profile of adopted children in education. He made waves. Noticeable waves.

There have been others too, dotted around the country. Pockets of individuals and small groups, of parents, carers, educators, therapists and psychologists, paddling and splashing at the water's edge. Creating waves.

There has been some progress already in recognising the reality that adopted children have specific challenges and support needs, and that meeting these must be prioritised if they are to settle in school, to learn and to thrive. The introduction of pupil premium plus provides some financial support, although there is much to be done in terms of making sure that is spent wisely and effectively. And now we have the extension of the role of virtual schools and designated teachers to include adopted and permanently placed children.

Progress is sometimes frustratingly slow. Political tides ebb and flow, and with them our agenda. Yet at the Adoption UK conference last weekend, I got a sense that the growing number of swells and surges are beginning to converge into an irresistible force. A tsunami of voices, growing in number, gaining confidence, pushing forward.

Crucial for me was the voice of Stuart Guest, a primary school head teacher and adoptive parent. Parents and carers can talk about the issues until our voices are hoarse, but we are always open to the accusation that our ideas are fanciful and would never work in the 'real world' of education. It's hard to argue with a head teacher of a diverse, 400-pupil, inner city primary school who has wholly embraced attachment and trauma-sensitive practices in his school and bears witness to the positive results. It's not pie in the sky - it's happening and it's working.

We heard also from Daniel Shanly, another adoptive parent who, on being told that there was no school that would be able to manage her adopted child, went ahead and opened her own school. That school has just expanded, moving to larger new premises to accommodate nearly 100 children.

Most powerful were the voices of those who are so often unheard in all of this: adopted children and young people. They told us what would make their school lives better, and their ideas were heartbreakingly simple - to be listened to, to have their experiences validated, to have people around them who understand their situation as adopted children, to be given a little consideration.

I have heard the frustration of adoptive parents for whom the education of their children has been a struggle from start to finish; parents who are splashing and splashing deeper and deeper into the water, only to be rebuffed; parents and their children who are close to going under. Some already swept away.

Change is hard and slow. What may seem obvious to those living through it takes aeons of patient explanation to those with no experience. I spoke to parents at the conference who were thrilled with the possibilities of change. Within a couple of days they were sharing on social media how school struggles have pulled them under once again.

It's a long game, and many who have worked so hard to achieve changes will never be able to reap the benefits for their own children. It won't be a speedy revolution.

It's a long game, but I think the tide is turning.


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