Helping a young person living in residential care to return to mainstream school

By Athlene Derry

Date Posted: Monday, 15 June 2009


Athlene Derry has worked in residential child care for a number of years. She is currently a senior residential child care worker in a children’s home in south London.


Helping a young person living in residential care to return to mainstream school


Whether we like it or not or whether we want to believe it or not most of us come  to understand that in our society education is one of the most  important things in a child’s, young person’s and more and more in an adult’s life. I have experienced the advantages of education and so I believe every child should be encouraged to attend school. The trouble is I work in a children’s home and it sometimes happens that a child is very reluctant to attend school. I want to tell you about Amelia, a 14 years old young woman I worked with but before I do I ought to tell you what I was doing at that time.

I was a deputy manager working in a children’s home in the London area. One of the main aims of the home  was to support children back into mainstream schools. The home was quite a small one. When we were full we only had three young people living there. They were placed there because they could not stay  in their family homes because their behaviours made them  vulnerable, though I would say not seriously so.  The children’s home did not have a teacher and so as the deputy manager it was my responsibility to meet with each of the children when they arrived not only to find out about their schooling but also about  the  interests they had. From those meetings I had to design an education plan  for each of the children and to establish what their interests were and make an activity plan for them. I had no support to do this so I sought out a friend who was a teacher at a local school to help me make these plans though for confidentiality’s sake I did not share any of the personal details of the young people.  Most of the time the educational part of my work was straightforward because the young people were attending the local school but Amelia was different. When she came I spent three weeks without any success trying to persuade her to go to the local school. The school  had agreed to keep a place open for her but she wouldn’t go. She had not attended school since her first term at secondary school. Although I was not making any progress with getting her to attend school or take part in activities, we did over the following weeks talk to each other a lot and got to know each other. I think in the end that might have been what made the difference. One day I brought in the brochures for a holiday in Egypt that I was planning to go on and Amelia started looking at them. There were pictures of the pyramids and historic places where there had been archaeological excavations. I said nothing about this to Amelia but one day about a week before I was due to go on my holiday Amelia said that she wanted to be an archaeologist. So I went with her to enrol at the local library and we got out some books on archaeology.

I went on holiday to Egypt and as soon as I came back Amelia asked me a lot about Egypt and she showed me an exercise book in which she had been writing and drawing about archaeological sites and excavations in Egypt. She was very excited when I gave her a little pottery model of the Sphinx that I had brought back for her. The next morning she told me that if I could find her a school that did archaeology she would go. I said I would give it a go while trying to hide my excitement about it. Sometimes with girls that age if you show too much enthusiasm about their plans they can be put off them. I approached the local  school and as I thought, they did not teach archaeology but they had a male teacher who was very interested in it and was prepared to give her a short archaeology lesson every lunchtime. When I told Amelia about this she began to get nervous but to our delight she agreed to try to attend the school. Amelia and I had a few meetings with the school to discuss her programme and to help her prepare for  attending her classes. In addition to the daily archaeology lessons Amelia was to be given further special support at the school. For the first few days a member of staff went with Amelia to help her overcome her nervousness but very soon this was not needed. Soon Amelia didn’t even need the additional support and after a few months she even got fed up with the archaeology lessons but she was loving going to school and she loved her new friends at school. Occasionally there were problems particularly when some boys started pointing her out as a kid who lived at a children’s home. That was sorted out with the help of the head teacher.

Some family matters cropped up which meant I had to leave my work there but Amelia is still at the school. She’s doing her A levels now.

Looking back I wish I could say that there was some magical moment when I used my wit and intelligence to persuade Amelia to go to school but that never happened. I do think that the times we spent talking to each other when she was refusing to go to school had something to do with her eventual decision to go to school even though by that time I had stopped talking to her about attending school because she wouldn’t listen.  I think too that having a strong staff team who worked together with her and who never put her down when she refused to attend school  was important for her and I believe it was that kind of support that eventually gave her the confidence to attend full-time education.





24 Aug 2009,    Nuala Nelson
I liked this article for showing how if you pay attention to details in your work with young people and act on them there can be great rewards for everyone concerned.