Starting school is stressful for any parent but for parents who have adopted their children or who are in the process of adopting them, it can be extra stressful. Sending a child who is not yet fully attached to their parents into a new environment can cause all sorts of problems. From struggling to make friends, struggling to control their behaviour (often only seen at home!) or struggling to understand the social situations of a school environment. However, there are other issues that arise that are particular to schools, which aren’t as well documented. Issues to do with the child’s name, photos, websites, blogs, and, the one that worries parents the most, who might have access to their child’s information. Safeguarding adopted children at school is such a huge issue but is not always taken as seriously as we need it to be!
As a Headteacher, I had a number of adopted children in the school and often came up against these issues. As an adoptive parent, I have been on the other side of the fence, and have learnt how to approach schools to ensure that my child is as safe as possible when they are not with me. Here are my top tips on safeguarding adopted children in the schools:
This can be a very difficult issues for both schools and for parents. If your child has not yet been adopted then the school will have their birth surname on the records. This makes perfect sense for schools as officially the child’s name hasn’t been changed. However, from a parent’s point of view, we don’t want their birth name on all documents, books etc. The easiest way around this is to speak to the school as early as you can and ask that the child ‘be known as’ your surname, and that this is written on all documents and books. This should quickly solve the problem and ensure that, when your child is adopted, the process to change their name formally is smooth and quick.
it is a government requirement that all primary schools maintain an up to date website full of important statutory information. However, lots of schools take this further and have class blogs or put pictures and information about what is going on each week on their website. The concern here is how to keep your child’s photo off the website or blog. This is a pretty easy fix due to data protection. All schools should ask you to complete a data protection form which allows you to give, or refuse, permission for photos. Schools are very good at checking these forms but it is always worth checking the website on occasions in case a photo slips through (this could be because it’s a whole school photo or class photo), in which case a gentle reminder to the school office will rectify it immediately.
This was a surprise one to me as a parent, but when my daughter had won a prize her name was put onto the newsletter as her full name. Admittedly it was her adopted surname but I was uncomfortable about having any child’s full name on a newsletter, so I spoke with the school who agreed and amended their policy so only the first name, or first name and initial of their surname was published.
Talking To The Teacher
Another surprise one to me! Part of the National Curriculum is for children to recognise ‘recent past’ and further up the school to write autobiographies. This can be riddled with problems! My daughter was asked to take in 5 photos of herself and her family from birth onwards!! After having a quick panic at home the evening we received the homework, I popped into the class at the end of the day to have a chat with the teacher and explained the problem. It was quickly resolved by agreeing that my daughter could take in 5 recent photographs over the year she had been with me, which made us all happy. So my top tip here is, don’t panic too quickly when something arises at school – arrange to see the class teacher the next day to talk it through and 99/100 it will be quickly sorted.
Use The Key Word!
Sometimes, just sometimes, you will run into something that the class teacher can’t (or won’t) sort out of understand. So at this point, your best plan of action is to ask for a meeting with the Headteacher and, when questioned about why you need a meeting, mention the key word – ‘safeguarding issues.’ This will get you in to see the Head and will solve the problems quickly. However, there is a caveat to this – use this strategy only when you really need to otherwise it can damage your relationship with the class teacher if they don’t feel trusted.
Arrange A Lock Down
My final piece of advice is something I call ‘lock down’. I came up with this in my first year as a Head when a birth parent was known to be phoning schools in the local area to try to identify which school their child was at. This is frightening both for the school and for the parents, so we introduced a ‘lock down’ policy. Essentially this meant that the adoptive parents gave the school a list of people who might call the school (sometimes including social workers) and who we could talk to about their child. If anyone else called at all, the Office staff were instructed to say that there was no child by that name at the school, and to immediately phone the adoptive parent.
Schools can be difficult places to negotiate and sometimes I find myself thinking ‘How did this happen?’ or ‘Didn’t they think?’. It’s at times like this that I take a step back and remember that schools and teachers are just people too, and mistakes do happen – it’s what happens after the mistake has been pointed out that is important, and educating the school or teacher on the issues that can arise so that these mistakes don’t become repeated in the future.
Do let me know if you have any other tips for safeguarding adopted children in schools!