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“School tried everything to increase my son’s numeracy but ignored his love of science & animals”.

Published: September 12, 2016

Adoptive Mum turned professional trainer, Nicola Marshall, shares her experience of school…

Eight years ago our lives changed drastically when we adopted a sibling group of three. They were four, five and seven at the time and had come from a traumatic background. As I reflect on these years two areas stand out to me the most. Firstly, because they surprised me at the impact they have had on us as a family, and secondly as a result I now spend my days trying to help others understand the difficulties in these areas.

The first is education. As our children were of school age when placed, school became part of our lives, unlike when you give birth and you have 4-5 years to prepare yourself. School and the education system have been a struggle ever since. It’s something you don’t really realise when you adopt, that learning and the education environment may be difficult for your children.

When we are tiny babies and our brains are first developing, the environment we live in is so important to our brain development. For children who didn’t have their basics need met and who were in a chaotic home, their brains have been impaired in some ways which influence how they learn. The ideal scenario for them is when they feel safe and calm – in a place with few people, who they trust, and with little distractions. Sound like any school you know?

I came across this quote recently that resonated with me when I think about my children and their school experiences:-

“I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that”. 

Dick Gregory.

The added difficulty for children who’ve already experienced trauma in their early life is that they have felt shame and hate at home and now when they move to what should be a safe environment they experience those things at school.

For the last five years I have been training educators on understanding vulnerable children in the classroom. The rewards and sanction systems we use in this country hinder many children’s progress, the way we focus on weaknesses instead of valuing strengths means children are overlooked. For my youngest son his Primary School tried everything they could to increase his understanding of Numeracy whilst not fostering and nurturing his love of science and animals.

Secondary Education is another thing altogether. Detentions, isolations, yellow cards, exclusions all compound the sense of shame and rejection vulnerable young people feel. As an adoptive parent we have to advocate constantly for our children – with schools, with the Local Authority, with the NHS, to get them the help they need. It can be exhausting.

That brings me onto the second area – support. Like you, I’m sure, I was led to believe once you adopt you get support from the Local Authority. That is not always the case. Most of the support we’ve had has come from our close community and friends. It’s easy to adopt but it’s much harder to re-wire traumatised children and break the cycle of neglect and abuse for them! I do believe that community is the answer. The more positive adults my children come into contact with, whether that’s at school, church or in our neighbourhood, the better their long term outcomes will be.

Nicola Marshall will be discussing adoption and school in our “Meet The Adopter” webcast at 6.30pm on Thursday 15th September. She is the founder of Braveheart Education which offers training and support to adoptive parents, foster carers and those whose children struggle within educational settings.


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