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A recent tweet from Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, who chairs the the House of Common’s Education Committee, has spurred comment on Twitter. It seems important to respond with some facts and figures. Mr Halfon was concerned that a senior official from the DfE, having read the Committee’s report on School Exclusion, made dismissive remarks about a report that had been done.

The remarks made by the public official, which are described in a newspaper article by Mr Halfon, are experienced by us as unhelpful and are of concern. We would very much like to meet with the House of Commons Education Committee – ideally together with the DfE official who made the remarks, for dialogue, and to discuss our problems, as parents and carers of children – where it is established there is an extremely ‘high risk’ of exclusion.

The House of Commons Education Committee has calculated that the cost for each excluded child, over a lifetime, is £370k. We are not sure how this figure is worked out but it seems likely the real cost of school exclusion, and of not providing education that is accessible for children who have difficulties to self regulate, is far higher. This figure does not factor in the loss of employment, social isolation and stress related illness of children, parents and carers, and the child’s brothers and sisters. There is also a high likelihood an excluded child may end up in the care system, which in today’s Britain, means they may be raised miles away from their community and living in areas of danger, (see article by Louise Tickle in The Guardian 1/8/2018). Costs in these cases can spiral. It is our experience that secure accomodation may then be needed to protect the child from drug dealers and sexual grooming – this costs approximately £600k per year – plus the costs of court proceedings. These are children no one wants to care for and often foster carers cannot be found. These children need love and affection, which is something the corporate parent cannot provide. Without it they do not thrive and are so vulnerable to exploitation – but state ‘intervention’ in these cases seems to come between parent/family and child, who are supposed to be the key to the child’s future.

Success in life is about the quality of relationships we have with others – not just the qualifications we achieve and the number of houses and cars we own. Social capital is important and in countries where there are huge gaps and inequalities, there is poor health. Health costs spiral. See, for example, ‘The Spirit Level’.

School excluded children grow up with a message that they are social outcasts. Yet their problems may be beyond their control and stem from disability, neurodiversity issues and their early life experiences, which may include being taken into care and multiple care placements. It is a sad indictment of our caring society if they cannot access education – especially when this happens from an early age.

Another side of the School Exclusion debate is children who exclude themselves – they give up on school because they cannot cope with it, they are being bullied, or they just find it too overwhelming. The child may find they just cannot cope with school at all any more – and may not leave their bedroom feeling so anxious and depressed. We end up talking to them through their bedroom door.

Our friends and family often don’t understand and can be quick to judge our parenting on the basis of the child’s behaviour. To social care professionals it may look as if we are ’emotionally harming’ the child and there have been very sad cases of children being removed and parents taken to court for exactly this reason – when an anxious child cannot cope with school and professionals have attributed the problems to poor parenting capacity – when support that was needed from them was not given. It seems it takes parents years to rectify misunderstandings in the system – which does not provide them with legal aid – so they must battle against barristers and solicitors with no knowledge or understanding of the child – who have never even met the child – whilst the local authority, with a duty of care for the child and family, tries to prove that the parental capacity is lacking. The problems that led the child being taken into care in the first instance may not ever be addressed by the time the child begins to transition to adult life, and is handed over to adult services. We look back on what we have done and tried to achieve and feel saddened that the system would not provide the help that was so clearly needed for our children – especially when, instead of help, there was exclusion.

We conducted a survey in January this year about the health and wellbeing of adopters and special guardians with 389 respondents, and another survey in May. Our information gathering process has involved 500+ adults parenting and caring for 700+ children.

In our Health and Wellbeing Survey (N=389) we established that 35% of the respondents reported that a child was excluded from school. In the School Exclusion Survey (N=145) we identified that 46% of respondents reported that a child was excluded from school, with 23% saying the exclusions were frequent. When something is not working it is pointless to continue on the same path, in the same way – especially when the action or response causes harm. If the approach escalates the problems and they are simply pushed back onto the parents and family – this is not helpful.

Our studies identified a number of associations and correlations reaching significance, which all need to be further explored and thought about – some very serious. Suicide attempts on the part of the child, and parental/caregiver cancer and high blood pressure were found to be significantly correlated with school exclusion.

In the Health and Wellbeing Survey we found a significant correlation between having a child who had ever been excluded from school and the following problems for parents/caregivers in terms of their child’s behaviours:

  • Anger and rage meltdowns
  • Child to parent/caregiver violence
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Stealing
  • School refusal and school anxiety issues
  • Drug and alcohol problems
  • Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts
  • Being bullied at school or on social media
  • Being groomed for sex
  • Being targeted by drug dealers
  • False allegations made about parent/special guardian, partners or family members.
  • Sexually problematic behaviour, acting out their trauma
  • Going missing from care
  • Going missing from home
  • Child being arrested
  • Sibling trauma bonds/violence towards siblings

From the same survey, in terms of the stress that the parents and carers were exposed to, with their children being excluded from school, we found significant correlations between:

  • Difficulties supporting the child in the family home
  • Difficulties ‘parenting/caring from a distance’ (this is when a child re-enters care – it is not a role that is recognised or supported by the state)
  • Coping with child’s challenging behaviour
  • Impact of child’s behaviour on their siblings
  • Difficulties dealing with child’s school
  • Family time or ‘contact, if the child had re-entered care/is living away from family
  • Demands of multiple caring role
  • Differences with partner
  • Worries about the future
  • Lack of understanding from Friend’s/Family/ Community
  • Professionals finding it hard to build trust with children
  • Professionals not appreciating and understanding child’s needs
  • Difficulties and obstacles to access support provision
  • Being discriminated against when trying to access services
  • Lack of understanding from professionals
  • Legal issues
  • Formal complaints made by respondents
  • Court proceedings.

We hope that by gathering evidence we might be listened to and be able to participate in dialogue about what needs to be done.

With so many caring people, adopters, special guardians, professionals and experts from a range of disciplines, surely we can find ways of minimising the trauma experienced by children and their families. Working together towards a common goal of ensuring a young person’s welfare, meeting both physical and emotional needs, and improving the life chances of those with a poor start in life, in a loving and caring family home – this task can be met with commitment and shared understanding of all those involved. Participation in sharing skills and knowledge to achieve this common goal needs supportive structures to optimise success in what is a difficult and complex task. We very much hope the Education Committee and DfE will read this article and look at our surveys and reports – and begin to give consideration to how we, those with lived experience, might be more involved in this work, and be more able to participate in useful and productive discussion and dialogue with them, to help our children.