Dylan (aged 8) was referred to me by his school – his attendance was poor, and they had identified he needed extra support in lessons, but his mum Adriana wouldn’t agree to Dylan being assessed for Special Educational Needs (SEN). The school were struggling to engage with Adriana, and were worried about Dylan and his brother Matias (aged 10), whose attendance was also poor, so asked me to help.
I arranged to speak to Adriana to understand why she was reluctant for Dylan to be assessed, and to find out what might be going on outside of the classroom. I quickly realised it was more complicated than it seemed – not only was Adriana unsure of what an assessment and diagnosis might involve for Dylan, and how it would impact the family’s lives, but she explained to me how a diagnosis and label would reflect on her within her cultural and religious community. Adriana was especially concerned that Dylan would be viewed as sinful, or under the influence of evil spirits.
Adriana was also able to tell me more about other difficulties the family were facing, which were further impacting Dylan and Matias’s engagement in school.
Adriana was a single parent, and the children had very limited contact with their father due to previous domestic violence. Their housing situation was overcrowded, unsafe, and far away from the school. On top of this, Adriana’s Immigration Status meant that she had No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). As a result, it was almost impossible for the family to access help and support – Adriana could not claim benefits, tax credits, or housing assistance, and her children did not receive Free School Meals: poverty was an issue for the family.
I reassured Adriana that we could work together to ensure things would improve for her and her children – starting with the assessment process which would secure the support Dylan needed in school. With my support, Adriana and Dylan were able to attend the necessary appointments with psychiatrists and paediatric consultants; Adriana also attended a workshop and has benefitted from resources about Dylan’s SEN, so she better understands Dylan’s diagnosis. We all know that Dylan is not defined by any diagnosis given to him, but his diagnosis has been crucial for getting him the support he needs in lessons.
Meanwhile, I used the SHS Welfare Fund to purchase suitable school uniforms for Dylan and Matias. I’ll always remember the head describing how, when Dylan and Matias came back from our shopping trip they were:
“so excited and had the most amazing smile across their faces as they now had clothes and shoes that … fitted them perfectly. These children were so happy walking out of school with their bags saying they can’t wait to come back to school”.
I also signposted Adriana to different organisations, like the local Food Bank and a migrant charity, who would still offer help and advice despite Adriana’s NRPF status. Adriana and I are working alongside a charity and lawyer to apply for UK residency, and we’re hopeful this will improve things further.
I also worked hard to make sure that Dylan and Matias had a suitable home. When I met the family they were housed 20 miles away from their school, living in one room and sharing one bed in a house with multiple other occupants. The children were not able to do their homework or sleep, they were often late for school despite leaving their home at 6am, and their home wasn’t safe. The Housing Team initially refused to work with me and the family, but I advocated for them, eventually making an official complaint – Adriana would never have felt confident enough to do this, or known where to start. The family were offered another temporary accommodation the same week which was slightly better – they were over the moon, but I was determined not to give up until they had a suitable home. Three days before Christmas, they moved into their own three bedroomed house.
Now things couldn’t be more different for Adriana, Dylan, and Matias. Things beyond the classroom are so much more positive, as they have a safe home of their own, food to eat, their own school uniforms, and hope for their future in the UK. Adriana’s relationship with the school has totally transformed – they now work together to make sure both Dylan and Matias have they support they need in class. Staff keep commenting on the changes they’ve seen: both Dylan and Matias’s attendance has consistently been above 95% and over the past two terms they’ve made exceptional progress in reading, writing, and maths.
Everyone at School-Home Support is really proud of how hard Dylan and Matias have worked this year – I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the family, and am excited to see what the future holds for Dylan and Matias now they have the support they need to thrive.