Frequently an adopted or foster child in your classroom will behave in a way that disrupts other pupils and destabilises the classroom. This makes your life as a teacher difficult, and it is often tough to deal with the fallout.
It can be tricky to be sympathetic and supportive to the child and their permanent parent when other parents complain about TIM (Traumatised Child Maltreated) hitting, swearing or disrupting their own child’s learning. It’s a professional challenge that’s complex to understand, navigate and manage. It’s also exhausting having TIM’s in your classroom.
This article offers insights into TIMs early life.
Currently there is nothing in teacher training about the impact of maltreatment, neglect and trauma on children. Hence, you may not have the knowledge or understanding to see TIM through the lens of trauma. Thank you for reading this far.
Classroom strategies for traumatised and attachment disordered children do map across to “normal” children. They add more tools to your child management processes. A classroom which feels safe to a traumatised child will benefit everyone.
Although adoptive and foster parents may both be dealing with ‘similar’ children, there are some differences which are worth noting.
Adoptive parents are much less likely to get support from the Local Authority. They often have to fight for adoption support and although the Adoption Support Fund offered some therapeutic input, it is now being capped. Adopters often ask the Local Authority for help but don’t get what they want or need. This is deeply frustrating (particularly as they were told during preparation that support is there) and you may find adopters angry, exhausted, depressed and desperate. Please remember they were not like this before their children arrived. (They would not have been approved as adopters otherwise). The behaviour you are seeing in them, and from them, is the result of living with a traumatised child and dealing with “the system”. And yes … you are part of that system.
Foster parents are supported and supervised by a Fostering Agency (Independent or the Local Authority). Foster carers may have a child placed for days, weeks, months or years. Often they don’t know the duration. There will be social workers actively involved in the life of the foster child and who may have to approve school trips or activities, because the Local Authority has “parental responsibility” or may share it with birth parents, which makes the situation even more complex. Consequently, foster parents would appreciate a ‘heads up’ for trips etc from you.
The child’s birth family will always be significant to a child, whatever the circumstances that caused their removal from that family. This is private information which needs to remain private. Support from you in keeping those boundaries will benefit the child long term. The child needs to know their life story (100% truth in an age appropriate way), yet it should not be playground or staff room gossip. Their personal history will not allow you to teach them better. Of course you are curious, but as a professional, you know the importance of maintaining boundaries. Please be assured, adoptive and foster parents will tell you what you need to know.
Sometimes it can be really tough stuff. Maybe the child learns a birth parent has died/ been imprisoned/ had a baby/ had a child removed/ had a child returned to their care/ is the victim or perpetrator of a high profile crime. The list is long and frequently ugly. Even though informing the child (age appropriately) is correct for their long term understanding, there is likely to be short term behavioural and emotional outbursts. As a teacher you simply need to know “he had some distressing news which will take some time to process and integrate”. Sometimes parents are restricted by legal and court decisions. So please have some sympathy. This is difficult for everyone.
Certain part of the curriculum will ‘press buttons’ for the child. Sex education, genetics, families, relationships amongst others. Again, a ‘heads up’ to adoptive and foster parents so they can prepare the child will benefit everyone. Asking for family photos or a baby photo for a display board could be a source of great pain for a child. The child will not be able to tell you, or anyone else, the feelings, anger, sadness, shame or guilt such a request creates. However their behaviour will send a signal but generally not in a way that allows you to make the connection.
Throughout FAB Parents you will find information to help you understand traumatised children.
This slideshow “Making sense of classroom nonsense” might be useful for you
New Resource from PAC-UK “Meeting the needs of adopted and permanently placed children: A guide for school staff”