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No child need ever feel unloved or out of place – Raven

January 07, 2022

Close up of adult hands holding child's hands

Raven is an inspirational Explore Tutor who shares a simple message that can help us all make a difference in our interactions this year.

 

It’s Christmas Day.

 

I’m sat alone in my suddenly too big, too quiet studio-flat, in a block of student accommodation that stands completely empty – everyone having gone home for the holidays. I look at my windowsill and see a singular Christmas card – from my university’s Student Support Team – one sent to every Estranged and Care Leaver Student. I sit at my desk with a comforting cup of coffee and pour through biochemistry lectures, drowning in equations before I can drown in loneliness.

 

‘When are you going home?’ asks a friend from university, brimming with excitement.

‘Are your parents picking you up or are you travelling back yourself?’ asks the thoughtful security guard, offering to help with any luggage I may have.

 

‘Are you excited to see your family over Christmas?’ asks a lecturer, making pleasant conversation, during a time of togetherness.

 

I casually make finger guns, wiggle-point and smile. “I don’t have one of those, I’ve got me and a bucket of coffee”. It comes out with an easy laugh – now instinctive, once designed to put others at ease. I’ve answered these questions before.

 

It still hurts.

 

 

When you grow up in an unconventional situation to your peers – when your family looks a little different or, indeed, you don’t have one at all – it’s pretty hard not to notice. Everywhere you look, there’s a reminder. Something or someone telling you that you don’t belong: you’re weird or out of place at best; you’re not cared for or loved at worst.

 

This is the experience of hundreds of thousands of children, day in, day out.*

 

In the UK, there are an estimated 400,000 (3%) children in the social care system at any one time (Gov.UK, 2021). At least 80,000 of these children are ‘in care’, known as Looked After Children (LAC).

 

So, what can we do?

 

The language we choose when talking to children matters – often in ways that are easy to overlook. Questions you wouldn’t think twice about, can feel like a knife to the gut when incorrect assumptions are made.

 

‘Can you go get Mum or Dad?’ seems like a natural thing to ask a child when giving Parent/Carer feedback. But, it’s just that – Parent or Carer feedback. For some children, this may be a mum or dad, for others it may be an aunt, uncle, grandfather, older sister or foster carer.

 

That question never passes my lips until I know – instead I ask ‘which adult is here with you – so I can tell them how amazing you are?’, or something along those lines. If this is not a mum or dad, I’m always sure to ask next time if the child can go get their carer, or grandmother or uncle – a subtle way of letting them know their home set up is completely okay, and nothing to be ashamed of.

 

Some LAC may feel comfortable with the term ‘foster mum’ or ‘foster dad’ but for the majority of children this won’t be the case, especially as many still maintain some level of contact with their biological family. A carer does not replace this. Instead, using the term carer or referring to the carer by name is preferable.

 

Every child is an individual, which is sadly something often overlooked in the foster system. As educational providers we have a duty to ensure every child’s needs are met, and no child feels out of place – especially for things beyond their control. By using inclusive language, that isn’t propped up by assumptions of family structure, or biological family at all, we can create a more welcoming environment for all children.

 

This is vitally important, especially as LAC are one of the most overlooked groups – in general society, but even in spaces with a specific focus on diversity and inclusion. We can change this, conversation by conversation, and build a society where no child need ever feel unloved or out of place.

 

*Although this post has a specific focus on LAC, it’s helpful to note many of these things apply to a range of children from varying backgrounds, including those of divorced parents, in LGBTQ+ households or from BAME communities where multi-generational households are much more common. Unless we know a child and their unique family set up, assuming they fit into a heteronormative idealised western version of a nuclear family simply runs the risk of creating a needlessly painful situation for a child who already knows they don’t ‘fit’ in how our society views family. It’s a situation of ‘othering’ we can easily squash.

 

By Raven Hope

 

Headshot of Raven Hope

 

Sources:

Main findings: children’s social care in England 2021. 2022. [Accessed: 25 December 2021].

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