I started working with a family of three boys following social services intervention and serious child protection concerns. School absenteeism caused by complex problems was having a significant impact on the education of Rafi, 12, Ade, 11, and Kevin, 9. The three brothers lived with their grandmother, whom they called Oma. The boys had been removed from the care of their mum and dad after witnessing years of domestic violence. Sadly, their mum also had a history of substance abuse which affected her ability to meet the boys’ needs. School-Home Support (SHS) became involved with the family once Oma had been granted a residency order for the boys; all three were persistently absent from school and Oma was struggling to manage. She had mental health problems and issues with alcohol.
As soon as I met the family, I immediately set to work with Oma to help develop some routines for the family. The first priority was to get the boys in school, on time every day. I made an application to the SHS Welfare Fund for school uniforms, as Oma was dependent on welfare benefits and the boys’ uniforms were tatty and incomplete. They only had trousers, which they wore with t-shirts instead of the uniform shirt, no proper school shoes and Rafi did not have the correct school blazer, which singled him out for bullying at school. A set of smart new uniforms for the boys boosted their self-esteem and confidence. I visited the family home every day for a week to help with breakfast and to ensure the boys were ready and out of the door on time to get to school. Oma really welcomed the support, and within 12 weeks the boys’ attendance at school had dramatically improved. School attendance for all three boys is now 95%, which we’re all really pleased with.
The boys’ behaviour at school was a serious cause for concern. Rafi, the eldest, was being repeatedly excluded from his secondary school for violent behaviour, he was angry and upset and was regularly in trouble with teachers and his peers. I went with Oma to speak to the school and discuss what kind of options could be put in place to provide Rafi with some additional support. The school allocated Rafi a mentor, which he found very helpful. I also met with key school staff to help devise a plan to help prevent Rafi being subject to repeat exclusions. The school agreed that when Rafi felt his behaviour was escalating, or if staff felt he was getting out of control, then Oma or I would come into school and spend some time with Rafi. This was a really successful strategy; Rafi felt both his Oma and I cared about him and that school was on his side. In addition, I got in touch with an agency specialising in providing support to children who have witnessed domestic violence. Rafi enrolled on their 12-week programme with a small group of children. The programme benefitted him enormously, and Rafi has made huge efforts to understand his behaviour and make positive changes. Oma and I attended regular meetings at school to ensure Rafi was supported at home and at school. He is now much more engaged in class, trying hard at school and his teachers are pleased with his progress.
The two younger boys, Ade and Kevin, were also struggling at school, and were both in need of additional support. They were disruptive in class, unable to concentrate and had problems maintaining friendships. Ade was in the final year of primary school and approaching the difficult transition to secondary school. I spoke with Oma about Ade and Kevin joining the specialist programme for children who have witnessed domestic violence that Rafi had benefitted from. Both boys went through the programme with Oma’s support and benefitted enormously in terms of learning about positive behaviour and understanding their own trigger points. I helped Oma speak to the boys’ primary school about identifying mentors for the boys. Over the next few months, their days at primary school became more positive and enjoyable and the boys responded well to having a mentor at school.
I also helped Oma apply for a secondary school place for Ade. He wasn’t initially awarded a place in the local secondary his older brother attends. This caused considerable anxiety for him and the rest of the family. I helped Oma appeal the decision, as the additional burdens of separate schools included longer travelling time, two sets of schools to liaise with and different uniforms, which heightened tensions and stress. An appeal panel considered Ade’s family history and he was awarded a secondary school place with his brother. The family were absolutely delighted and Oma in particular was hugely relieved. Ade has now attended his transition day and is very excited about starting secondary school.
Along with supporting Oma to help improve the boys’ attendance and behaviour at school, my priority included helping build Oma’s capacity and resilience so she could effectively parent the boys. Addressing Oma’s problem with alcohol and improving her mental health were key things to work on. Since my involvement, Oma has stopped drinking, and goes to the gym every morning. She took up employment support, applied for and was successful in securing employment as a midday assistant at a local primary school. Oma is also benefitting from some psychological support, and continues to make positive changes. She is really enjoying her new job which has given her additional structure, new friendship groups and has increased her sense of self-worth.
Rafi, Ade and Kevin no longer require additional support at school and although Rafi does still have occasional outbursts at school, he hasn’t been excluded since March this year. Social services are no longer involved with the family. Oma and the boys are taking up family group sessions and they continue to make progress. I’m really proud of their work and it’s been great seeing them go from strength to strength.
*All names have been changed