Looked after children are being celebrated today, on Care Day 2018 – a new national day of recognition where the rights, voice and achievements of children who are cared for away from home can be celebrated.
What is a looked after child?
A looked after child or young person is under the age of 18 and looked after by a Health and Social Care Trust. Children can be placed with family other than their mum and dad e.g. granny, uncle, cousin (kinship care) or in foster care (a professional carer) or residential care (a children’s home with a social work staff team). A child who comes into care has often been at confirmed or risk of significant harm and has a history of adverse childhood experiences in their pre-care story. Children come into care for a variety of reasons; sometimes because the care giver isn’t in a safe physical or mental space to fully care for their child; sometimes a parent is unable to protect their child from significant harm; sometimes it is because a child is at risk to themselves or others. Children’s welfare and safety must be of paramount importance in all circumstances and safeguarding should be the main priority.
Looked After Children – the myths:
- these children are really disruptive at home and in school
- these children are too much for their parents
- these children are manipulative
Looked After Children – the positives:
- these children can be resilient
- these children can achieve despite the adverse childhood experiences
- these children understand how to get their needs met
What is bullying?
The Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) defines bullying as the repeated use of power by one or more persons to intentionally hurt, harm or adversely affect the rights and needs of another or others. NIABF advocates that when talking about bullying, we challenge the language that is used, highlighting that it is best practice to describe behaviour rather than labelling a young person. Therefore instead of “bully” we recommend using the term ‘child demonstrating bullying behaviours’ and instead of “victim” we recommend using the term ‘child experiencing bullying behaviours’.
Whilst we do not have evidence of the prevalence of bullying behaviours involving looked after children in Northern Ireland, children and young people who are looked after may experience bullying or demonstrate bullying behaviours due to the distress and emotional trauma of:
- Living away from their parents and siblings
- Receiving respite care
- Moving placements
- Adapting to new situations and people repeatedly
- Losing contact with family and friends
- Leaving school for appointments associated with their care status e.g social worker, CAMHS, Therapeutic Support
- Being picked up from school by different professionals
- Sensitivities around media consent, appearing in school photographs and school trips
NIABF Policy and Practice
The Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum is interested in promoting positive mental health, resilience and wellbeing of all young people. NIABF recognises that looked after children can be particularly vulnerable because of their care status, their pre-care story (perceived or real) and their social and emotional needs. Along with a recent Parent/Carer Toolkit, NIABF were delighted to bring forward new supplements to the leading anti-bullying policy document Effective Responses to Bullying Behaviour including Supporting Schools when dealing with bullying incidents involving looked after children. This is a document that can assist schools and other settings to support children who are looked after and who are either experiencing or demonstrating bullying behaviours. Schools should:
- Recognise that looked after children and young people may not be comfortable discussing their home life therefore subjects relating to home and family should be approached with sensitivity;
- Be mindful that provision may involve a range of non-traditional family settings which may include foster care, kinship foster care and residential care;
- Leave adequate time for permission to be provided by the person with parental responsibility for a looked after child since the child may not have regular contact with this person;
- Identify a key adult who, for example, has responsibility for looked after children, and to whom pupils can turn if they have concerns;
- Be aware that the child with insecure attachment may present challenging behaviour, and have appropriate strategies in place to manage this in a child-centred manner.
The supplement links to the main Effective Responses to Bullying Behaviours document which sets out responding, resolving and restoring techniques to bring about a change in a behaviour. There is also an excellent glossary on the terms and people involved with looked after children.
Which NIABF members can provide direct support on looked after children?
The Education Authority is a statutory body with responsibility to deliver training in schools on anti-bullying policy and practice, and can support schools to implement an inclusive approach to bullying behaviours involving looked after children.
Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) is a charity with a vision to actively listen to and promotes the rights and voice of the looked after child through participation and advocacy. VOYPIC advocates can support young people to make informed contributions in Looked After Child reviews and Personal Education Plans.
The Fostering Network
The Fostering Network brings together everyone who is involved in the lives of fostered children, and advocates that the importance of fostering is understood, recognised and supported. In Northern Ireland, foster carers can be supported through the Fostering Achievement programme.