My foster child won’t go to school

When a child doesn’t go to school it can have a huge impact on both the child themselves and on everyone else in the household. Refusing to go can be a sign of problems in or out of school and it’s important to focus on getting to the underlying cause of why they won’t go.

Some of the reasons that a child may refuse to go to school are detailed below, along with ideas to help overcome these:

  • Problems with other children at school.

Bullying is a real problem for many children and staying away from school could be the only way a child feels able to avoid it.  See our blog on bullying for info on signs of bullying and how to help.

At the other end of the spectrum, a child may not want to go because they feel they have no friends.  Sometimes children lose friends after moving schools, or perhaps because of changes in their behaviour when they were going through difficult times.  Whatever the reason, speak to the school and see what they have on offer to help your child make friends and feel more included.  .

  • Issues with teachers, or with authority figures in general.

Sometimes children feel they have no control over their lives and they can push back against people such as teachers or social workers.  Helping your child to feel more in control by attending their meetings, or by sharing their views for them may help channels these feelings in a more positive way.

  • Difficulties with school work

Statistics tell us that Looked after Children often achieve fewer GCSEs and lower grades than other children.  Views differ about the cause of this, but whatever the reason, focus on building their confidence in their abilities.  Provide practical support with homework (or with home study if they aren’t going to school) and use the PEP (personal education plan) meetings to help them get additional support within school.

  • Difficulties coping in general

Consider if your child is disengaging from things other than school.  If your child has also stopped talking to friends, or their sleeping and eating habits have changed, they may be affected by anxiety or mental health issues.  Talking to your child about how they are feeling may help to identify what’s going on and what support they need.

Whatever the reason behind your child’s refusal to go to school, it can put you under great pressure to try to get them there.  It can sometimes feel that any drop in attendance reflects on the adult as much as on the child themselves.  The key thing is good communication – keep the school, your placement manager and the social worker informed so that everyone knows what’s going on.  Then focus on talking to your child to find out what support they need.

A few suggestions are:

  • Focus on asking why they don’t want to go and what can be done to remove any obstacles.
  • Set positive incentives rather than focusing on the negative. Reward charts work for younger children, but a more tangible reward will often work better for older children.
  • Be an advocate for your child. Ask them if there is anything they want you to talk to the school or social worker about for them. Help them to see that you’re on their side and that you want to solve any difficulties together.
  • Help a child to have dreams and aspirations. Focus on what your child can do and build on those skills and achievements so they can see what they are capable of.
  • Don’t underestimate the impact of having a child at home 24 / 7 on you as a carer. Speak to your Placement Manager and your support network about how you are feeling and any support that you might need.
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