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Working with school to support our daughter’s development

Published: August 10, 2016

Our daughter Lucy had been with us several months when she was due to start the local school in Reception. We were excited for her, and really hoped that she would blend in with the other children and not stand out as being different in any way that resulted from her unfortunate start in life. Our experience from the few months of nursery she had attended, however had prepared us that this was unlikely to be the case.

Since moving in with us Lucy’s development had been coming on leaps and bounds – we were astonished at the speed with which she was catching up with the developmental milestones for her age. Her speech was improving as were her fine and gross motor skills and it was clear that her brain was making new connections as she enjoyed new experiences, learned new skills and started reflecting on memories trying to make sense of her life to date. Emotionally though Lucy was still years younger than her chronological age.

When we thought about Lucy starting school we were concerned for her as she was still emotionally delayed and frequently reacted in unanticipated ways to situations. Also, as Lucy made connections or remembered experiences she would openly share them with whomever she was with, regardless of who that person was and what the memory was. If this was with someone who didn’t understand the context of her life, be it an adult or a child this could be quite shocking for them to hear and leave them at a loss to know how to respond.

In speaking with our social worker we realised that there was little benefit to be had by hiding the fact that Lucy was adopted from the people who would be nurturing her at school. In the months since Lucy had joined our family we had felt challenged by some of her behaviours and sometimes felt at loss to know how to respond to her when she came out with something unexpected from her past, and we knew all about her history. We could only imagine how unprepared or out of her depth Lucy’s teacher may feel if presented with similar interactions.

Although in our heart of hearts we wanted to keep Lucy’s personal situation and history private, we knew that it would be better for her if we could help her new school and her new teacher have enough of an understanding about her background to help them interpret what they may observe or experience from Lucy. We were concerned that if Lucy was held accountable to the same standards of concentration and behaviour, and expressions of the same level of emotional development as her peers this would be unfair for her. We were worried that without us sharing a little of Lucy’s history she may not get the empathy and the consideration that she should from her teachers or her school.

We felt that by sharing pertinent information about Lucy’s background, strategies for how to manage certain behaviours or situations and useful phrases to use in response to some of Lucy’s assertions, when they may otherwise find themselves at a loss for what to say – would help equip the teacher(s) to deal with situations as they arose in a way that would reinforce the approaches we took at home. So after much thought we decided to take the school and Lucy’s teacher(s) into our confidence and ask for their support, understanding and flexibility in helping Lucy develop, even though Lucy would be only one of thirty children in their class. We firmly believed that the more consistency Lucy could experience regardless of whether she was at home or school the better this would be for her adjustment, sense of well-being and development.

Over the years we have been pleased that we have shared some information with Lucy’s teachers, as not one of them have had any specific training or experience in teaching adopted or looked-after children before, or indeed a child with any form of an attachment disorder so Lucy was a new experience for each of them and they have all been open to and thankful for the guidance and support. We have partnered with the schools so that they could better support Lucy and we have been guided by them as to how we can help Lucy at home in certain areas so that she can succeed at school. It is definitely a partnership, both sides open to listening and learning from the other in recognition that at the centre is a little girl that can flourish more fully with joined up thinking and action on behalf of those people responsible for helping her develop.

I am in no doubt that Lucy is making such good progress at school as a result of the frequent and proactive two-way communication. It is a constant effort, as every year the teachers change and we have to build productive working relationships again with each new class teacher, but it is time and effort very well invested and Lucy is flourishing at school as a result.

Next time I will share some of the approaches we use in this home-school partnership to ensure we communicate fully and accommodate each other’s needs in support of Lucy.

Sophie is a mother of two. Her book “The Secrets of Successful Adoptive Parenting” has just been published. For more information go to


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