[O]n Tuesday (March 27) more than 100 foster carers, adopters and designated teachers, attended the day-long Learning Together Conference, which took place at Rheged in Penrith.
Organised by Cumbria County Council’s Virtual School team, the conference gave delegates the opportunity to ‘learn together’ to ensure children in care and care leavers across the county are able to reach their full potential.
Virtual School Head Teacher, Penny Crudge, said: “We wanted the conference to show that we can learn together using the skills, experience and expertise of people we have around us. We all learn best from one another and working together and in partnership will benefit all concerned, most especially our children.
“With this aim in mind, at the end of the day, we asked all delegates to write a pledge as to how they will use what they have learnt today to help the child or young person who they are involved with to have the best life chances possible and their response was overwhelming. ”
During the morning session delegates heard from a range of speakers about how best to support children and young people to achieve their potential, including care leaver, Matthew Peacock, from Carlisle, and foster carer, Ian Nancollis, from Egremont.
Care leaver Matthew, an 18-year-old student at Carlisle College, who’s just been accepted onto a course at the University of Cumbria, said: “I went to live with my foster carers when I was 12 and Secondary school was a mixed experience for me. Although I enjoyed going to school, I was bullied for a long time. Some days it was difficult when I was being bullied but I wasn’t going to let it stop me doing well and I was lucky that my teachers really helped me and did their best to put a stop to it.
“If I could give one bit of advice to children in care now at school, I would say don’t think you are different to others. Being in care isn’t all that different to living with your parents and you can still do well.”
Foster carer, Ian Nancollis, who has being caring for children for 18 years, said: “The early experiences of children in care can give them problems with behaviour management and self-esteem – giving them a different world view to the rest of us. We need to be fair and treat these children the same as others in our schools. But we also need to recognise the differences and different needs they have.
“I ask you to consider a child who has been repeatedly rejected in their life and how school behaviour management typically involves a child being given ‘time out’ and removed from the class. To me this just seems to reinforce all the negative messages they’ve had in the past. Really what these children need is ‘time in’ the class and help to fit in.
“What I would ask schools today is to treat these children differently so that they can be the same.”
Other speakers on the day included Rob Waddington, a designated teacher for Children Looked After (CLA), from Dowdales School in Dalton, Phil Shea and professionals from the Library Service and the University of Cumbria, who shared what they have on offer for children and young people in care.
In the afternoon delegates attended a variety of workshops addressing topics such as ‘Body, Brain and Behaviour’, ‘Sensory Processing’ and ‘Supporting your Child in English and Maths’.
The event also saw the premier of a short film created by young people in care, What Life Is Like For Some, introduced by Director of Children’s Services John Macilwraith, which aimed to help carers and teaching staff to understand the lives of children and young people in care.