Top tips for foster carers looking after children with special educational needs

Check out our top tips on navigating the special educational needs system, based on a new guide from The Who Cares? Trust

The Who Cares? Trust has launched a new guide for foster carers on how to support children with special educational needs.

Children in care are nine times more likely to have special educational needs (SEN) than other children, according to the charity’s guide, while parents often call the SEN system complex and confusing – a situation that can be even worse for foster carers.

Here are some top tips from the guide on how foster carers can navigate the system.

1. Understand the types of SEN

Photo: Newscast Online/Time To Change

Photo: Newscast Online/Time To Change

SEN can come in many different forms, and can refer to a child with social, emotional and mental health difficulties, a child with learning difficulties, communication and interaction needs, sensory and/or physical disabilities and needs.

2. Know how to identify it

Photo:John Birdsall/REX

Photo:John Birdsall/REX

Signs may vary, but SEN can be “specific as well as wide-ranging”. A child may have difficulty with one area of learning – such as letters or numbers – but show no other signs of struggling with their education. Alternatively, they might have problems relation to children or adults, but not display other difficulties.

3. Raise your concerns

Photo: Harold Lake/Flickr

Photo: Harold Lake/Flickr

If you think the child in your care may have some form of SEN, raise concerns with professionals quickly. It’s important that it is professionally diagnosed so they can get appropriate support.

4. Know your authority’s ‘local offer’


Photo: Kevin Steinhardt

Each local authority has to publish a ‘local offer’, which sets out support available for children and young people (0 to 25) with special needs and disabilities in the local area. Foster carers, you will be able to use the guide to find out whether there are additional support services in the area, which could benefit the child in your care.

5. Request an Education, Health and Care assessment if necessary

Photo: 'WestEnd61/REX

Photo: ‘WestEnd61/REX

Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans have replaced SEN statements as the way of ensuring support for children with SEN.

You, the child (if he or she is aged between 16-25), the child’s social worker, a teacher and any other professional who thinks the child might have SEN can request an assessment.

If you and the social worker disagree over the need for an assessment, speak to the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO).

6. Plan for transitions


Photo: Phil Whitehouse/ flickr

At 16, children can stay in school, move on to college or pursue apprenticeships. If your child has an EHC plan, they will receive support until they are 25.

However, wherever they move on to from school should be planned “well in advance”, so the child knows their options and can make an informed decision

7. Know where you can get your support from


Photo: Alessandro Prada/ flickr

It’s important to remember you’re not on your own. A child’s teacher and school special educational needs coordinater (SENCO) should keep you informed of what the needs of the child are.

Social workers can help you with practical things, like arranging meetings. External agencies are also available, such as child and adolescent mental health professionals, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists.

8. Rest!

Social worker asleep at work

Photo: Cultura/Rex

Caring for a child with SEN can be stressful, it can be demanding on both your energy levels and time.

“Your desire to ‘always do the right thing’ for the child may occasionally be in conflict of your own needs to relax,” the guide points out. But don’t forget that time to relax and unwind is “vital”.

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