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Adoptive Dad, Barry writes about finding the right school for his daughters

Published: June 10, 2016

Looking at social media or talking to adopters about their children’s school can be a disheartening business. The overall message seems to be that schools just don’t seem to understand the needs or behaviour of adopted children. Which is why I wanted to write about our family’s positive experiences.
I also thought I’d share some of the things we did to choose the school that best meets the needs of our adopted children.

The process of selecting a school started very early for us. Even before our children came to us, we asked as many questions as we could about the two girls who would become our daughters. We read and re-read their notes, spoke to the girls’ social workers and talked with their foster Mum. Knowing that the eldest was already at school and had lots of needs due to severe neglect and trauma, we focused on her as a priority (the youngest was still at preschool). We asked the girls’ social worker to contact the current school to get information on how she was progressing educationally and socially. We also wanted to know of any concerns the school had or any plans that were in place.

It turned out that our daughter couldn’t count to 10, could hardly read and couldn’t write. She was also struggling with control in the classroom often being removed from class for her behaviour. Although her foster carers were great, having a permanent home and a structure to her learning would hopefully help her come on in leaps and bounds.

Next we visited the two schools on our shortlist. The first was a large primary within walking distance. We spoke to both the Head and the SENCO ((Special Educational Needs Co-Coordinator) and had a tour of the school. Although, we liked the school, our instinct was that it wasn’t the right fit for our soon to be eldest daughter.

The second school was drastically different from the moment we walked in. The classes were smaller (15-25), and the place seemed calmer, more relaxed, but no less fun than the first school. When the headmaster took us round he knew all the children’s names. The SENCO told us the school already had a couple of adopted children so teachers had some experience of how their behaviour needed managing differently from their peers. The teachers seemed friendly, open and easy talk to about our fears. We were made to feel welcome and they were genuinely interested in our girls. It just felt right.
After a bumpy first panel (a story for another time) we finally got approved at the second one. Then there were a couple of weeks to sort out everything before our children arrived.

While our family helped paint and decorate their rooms, my wife and I contacted the school and got the eldest enrolled. The school helped advise us and walked us through the registration process. During introductions we asked to visit the eldest girl’s current school and speak to her teacher. Armed with questions from the SENCO, we found out how some of her behaviour was managed and got an update on her progress. All of which we could report back to the new school when she started.

After a settling in period she started school on a gradual basis. We shared the information her previous teachers had given us specifically on her disruptive behaviour. I’d love to say it was a smooth process but, yes, there were a couple of bumpy days. Luckily, the school managed these amazingly and agreed to match the parenting style we used at home. She soon settled in. When there were any issues the teachers would seek us out at the end of the day, agreeing strategy if needed.

Our school was, and is, very open and caring about all the children and that really comes across in how they interact with everyone. The teachers offered our daughter a clean slate. They didn’t label her, as past schools had done, and made allowances for her when she started. Most importantly they set a foundation for her where school and home were giving her the same message.

Two years on and that relationship continues. We had a recent homework problem that was starting to become a real concern but met her teacher who came up with a plan that worked for everyone and got the homework done! We cannot praise the school enough for all the hard work and help they’ve given us and more importantly our daughter. She has shaken off her disruptive reputation to become a much-loved student who is willing and eager to learn. It hasn’t been a bed of roses. Our eldest had endured 5 years of neglect and trauma. These issues will not go away overnight and she is having counseling to help her deal with them.

I’m writing this in the kitchen, on a lovely evening, watching the wind gently blow the branches of our Victoria plum tree. My wife is gently rocking our eldest girl on a swing while our youngest bounces on the trampoline. Just moments ago, my eldest was doing the same, loudly counting as she bounced. To anyone else this would be nothing special but it brought a tear to my eye.

Barry and his wife adopted their daughters in 2014. They are now aged 8 and 3. Read more from Barry at


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