Adoption Week Scotland 2018
The Scottish Governmant aims for Scotland to be the best place for children to grow up and having a loving and secure environment. Adoption plays a huge part in achieving this goals. This week we celebrate the Adoption Week Scotland 2018 and welcome the guest blog post written by Fiona Aitken, Director of Adoption UK Scotland.
Education is an enormous part of any child’s life – it is the environment where they spend the majority of their time, their opportunity to learn and the place that offers the chance to achieve and to succeed. For some it can be an incredibly positive experience. For others, it can be challenging. It is one of the biggest issues that adopted children face today. Adoption UK Scotland runs an information and advice helpline for those thinking about adopting, and adoptive families. One of the most common themes of a helpline call is a parent seeking advice about their child in school. We are working to change this narrative, and to see the small changes occur that we know can make a big difference. To do this, we are listening to the voice of the adopted young people themselves, and learning from them.
This week is Adoption Week Scotland, and the theme is all about listening to those at the heart of the system. The week kicked off with ‘Adopted Voices’ – a conference with a difference, that had been planned and co facilitated by a group of adopted young people. The young people chose the topics for the workshops that took place during the day, and designed the content. Out of six workshops they chose to build two around educational issues – one focusing on pastoral care and bullying, and the other around the syllabus and learning content. The content of these workshops came from the whole group of young people, not just the facilitators, and stemmed from quotes such as “I get slagged every day”, “they didn’t get me”, “it was so hard and no one was listening to me”.
The highlight of the conference was our final guest speaker, the First Minister, who joined us at the end of the day in order to meet with the group of adopted young people as part of her initiative to speak to one thousand care experienced individuals. The workshop was emotional; the young people were brave, honest, and spoke about what they needed, and the change they were seeking. Unsurprisingly, their experience of education dominated the conversation.
The young people in the room felt that schools needed to have learning specifically about adoption: “They should have a day just to learn about it, about why it’s different. People just don’t understand it.”
Many felt that there was still a real stigma attached to adoption, and this promoted bullying from their classmates, that often went unstopped by teachers:
“If someone slags me for being adopted there are teachers that hear and don’t say anything.”
The conversation went on to discuss the difference between good and bad teachers, and what it felt like to have their needs dismissed:
“Some of my teachers were brilliant – amazing at understanding – and others treated me like an inconvenience. They didn’t even try to understand what was happening.”
For the children, the most important support that they could have in school was a strong relationship. If someone took the time to learn about their needs, to encourage them and to find out why they may be finding things difficult, it made a huge difference to the young people.
The consensus in the room was that teachers should have learning from their earliest stage of training of the impact of early adversity.
This suggestion, eloquently made by the teenagers with lived experience, would benefit all, but in particular those who are care experienced, and those who have experienced difficulties in their early childhood.
The experiences shared by adopted young people during Adoption Week Scotland have taught us that there is still a lack of understanding and knowledge about the reality of adoption, and myths and misconceptions around the children, the families and the process. This needs to end. As one of our young people said, “Just because you’re adopted, doesn’t mean the feelings go away”.
We want to change the discourse around adoption. We want decision makers and education professionals to better understand the needs of care experienced children and the impact of trauma on their ability to learn. We want the stigma that adopted children feel they live with to be removed. To do this, we need educators to better understand the world that our children live in, and what adoption means to them.
Adoption UK Scotland has a series of free resources, including ‘Let’s Learn Together’ which every school in Scotland has a copy of. Our helpline is also available to schools and teachers who wish to find out more about the issues that their adopted pupils may be living with.