Tuesday was a complete whirlwind of a day. It started bright and early at 6.15am with just an hour to get myself ready for work, both boys washed, dressed and breakfasted for school. Bags were packed, my lunch made and then the boys directed towards different televisions with the doors closed to block out their usual giggling and jumping around. I sat down with a coffee at 7.15am and waited on a call I was feeling extremely nervous about – a FaceTime call from BBC Radio Scotland. Following the recent survey carried out by the BBC and Adoption UK, the media were looking for some feedback from both Adoption UK themselves and some adoptive families. I had been asked if I would volunteer to speak – my very first time on any form of media (apart from my vlogs of course). The call came through and I was given a sound check before it was a launch in to the discussion. I have to say, I loved it. It was great to be able to share what life ACTUALLY is like as an adoptive parent and to get across my strong view points on all things education and in particular PEF funding. I came off the phone satisfied that both Fiona ( Adoption UK Director) and I had given it our all and had really managed to highlight the important points that needed aired. I had already been told that later in the morning, the Minister for Childcare would be asked to respond.
I arrived at work by which point the Ministerial response had been given. I have to say, I was rather disappointed and would have loved a chance to have responded to his points. Sadly there was not the opportunity on the air, but I can of course, do it here. Before getting to that though, lets talk about what happened a few minutes later. Fiona received a call from the BBC asking if she would do an interview for Reporting Scotland. She agreed and offered my services too (she owes me a glass of wine at the Adoption UK Conference!). Next thing I know, I’m taking a walk in a local park, chatting with a lovely journalist about our challenging experiences and then we are on Reporting Scotland that evening – all very surreal. One question I got asked, that sadly wasn’t put in the report, was what I saw as the key changes needed for adoptive families. Wow, what a question. Everyone will likely have differing views on this but for me, the changes necessary are quite clear.
Lets go back to my response to the Minister first of all.
He acknowledged that 7 moves through the care system for a child is not acceptable – I think we would all agree with that. He explained that plans were in place to stop this kind of trauma from happening. Whilst this is fantastic, there is something key to be remembered – whilst, yes the moves caused a huge amount of trauma and whilst mitigating this would be great, it is not the only issue causing the trauma. There is all that came before these moves – the reason the child was removed from their birth parents in the first place. Stopping multiple moves does not stop the initial trauma.
The majority of the response centred around PEF (Pupil Equity Funding), something that I raised as being a major issue. I had already explained on air that PEF funding is calculated for each school based on the number of children in receipt of free school meals. The majority of adoptive children no longer qualify for this and therefore are not eligible for PEF funding. The Minister was asked if perhaps this was something that should change. He argued that although there are undoubtably adopted children that are in need of support, there is also the flip side that is true (presumably meaning that there are adopted children who do not require any support – I have yet to meet any such child!!). He felt that by capping it at only for free school meal children, they were capturing the widest majority of children in need. I had also explained that my children’s school were using their PEF funding to pay for councillors to work in the school to offer some therapeutic services – something that my children would be able to benefit from. This however, was used against my argument for PEF funding because this demonstrated that Headteachers could use their discretion and use the funds for more children than just those eligible. However, my argument to this would be that firstly, I have already heard about Headteachers using their PEF funding to buy iPads, and secondly, there are also schools with very few children on free school meal entitlement, but a large number of children with trauma based needs. They are left with very little scope for being able to pay for the additional services that they may need.
I felt rather disappointed with the response given – it felt very much like a brush off. The Scottish Government feel that no changes are necessary (although they say they keep it under review). Before moving on to my wish list of changes, it is important to compare the above lack of funding for adopted pupils in Scotland with the funding arrangements for adopted children in England. They have a similar ‘PEF’ system called Pupil Premium. A sum of money is given to schools on a yearly basis for any child receiving free school meals and for any child who is ADOPTED. In addition to this, there is a central bank of money of around £50 million that is set aside as an Adoption Support Fund. Parents can apply via their Local Authority to access this fund in order to pay for therapeutic services for their child. Whilst, the process to do these seems a complete nightmare and there is a £5000 cap on the amount that can be applied for, at least it is actually there. In Scotland, there is nothing. Any support has to be accessed through Local Authorities, and unless they are willing to pay for it (which they are highly reluctant to do) then the support just isn’t there. The main source of support I have seen a number of families being referred to is CAHMS. This service however is quite literally at breaking point. There is at least a 10 month wait and I’ve heard of families being turned away unless their child is at the stage that they are about to cause serious harm to themselves. A 10 month waiting list is disgraceful. Families applying to CAHMS need the help NOW, not in almost a year’s time.
This all leads me on very nicely to my wish list of change for adoptive families.
- Children who are adopted to be eligible for PEF funding.
- Attachment training for ALL members of staff (teachers, support staff, janitorial staff etc) in every school in Scotland.
- Attachment training as a focus within Teacher Training courses.
- Maximum of 12 week waiting list to access support services such as CAHMS.
- A central Adoption Support Fund to help cover support costs.
- Respite for Adoptive parents – a minimum of 2 weekends per year – more depending on needs of child.
- Adoption Allowance for ALL adoptive parents.
Just think of the change that could happen if the above became a reality….Sadly, its not something that I can just put on my list to Santa – if only it was!
If you wish to have a listen to the radio item we took part in, follow the link here. We are at 1 hour 34 and the Ministerial response is at 2 hour 34.
What are your thoughts on the Minister’s response? Do you think PEF for free school meal children is ample? Is there anything you would add to my wish list?