Back to School: Help I need a transition map

Charlotte JenkinsNews

School transition it’s endings (which I wrote about here) and perhaps even more so, its beginnings stir up a deep sense of foreboding and unpredictability, particularly for those children and young people who have experienced trauma in their lives. Two of my own children, both adopted, recall some of those questions and deep-seated worries as if they were yesterday…

“Will I know anybody at all?”

“Will I make any friends?”

“If I get lost, will I ever be found?” (My daughter added, with some real frustration and significance for her particular journey, that they weren’t even provided with a map)

When we are lost, as in when out walking or driving, we may well seek a map or refer to the satnav for help. When our child is emotionally lost, they and us as their parents need help from key people, quickly in order to avoid deeper sinking.


Who Can I Talk With In School And What Should I Share?

Trust, as we know, is built up over a period of time. Trust develops once you’ve been able to connect with key people so this will be a particular challenge for those starting a new school. Staff members will know their school far better than you. However, it’s you that knows your child far better than they do.

You are the one that will be your child’s biggest advocate (with the help of trusted others) during their school years. You are aware and understand and their unique story.

Suggestions on WHO to approach in school:

  • Class Teacher
  • Class Teaching Assistant/Learning Mentor (there may be one attached full-time to your child’s class or shared across a year group.
  • SENDCo/Inclusion Lead – This member of staff should have some strategic overview and be able to offer advice- signposting to other relevant contact
  • Looked After/Previously Looked after children (LAC/PLAC) Teacher. This is often the SENDCo/Inclusion Lead but not necessarily.

Making contact with the right person is often a frustrating challenge for parents and carers. You may need to speak with all of the above. It may be the headteacher that is the most help in all this.

Some of the information that you may think is important to share, for example, aspects of your child’s life story that may help key adults to understand the challenges lying ahead, are highly sensitive and rightly confidential. Think before sharing. Take advice from a social worker or other agency that is supporting you as appropriate.

This blog, written by a parent, Paula Gilhholy, from Adoption UK, is about her daughter’s first term at secondary school.  She shares many of the similar fears that I had as my children and I started searching for that “map” of what lay ahead. In Paula’s case, the (right) school staff listened and responded positively to the concerns shared. The small adjustments made within the early days and weeks of the new school experience made a huge and positive difference.

Paula’s experience was not without it’s challenges and “bumps along the way.”  My own family’s has been the same. So much of the experience for many youngsters will be based around the different, key adults they come across each year. Some they will connect, trust, feel safe and flourish with more far than the others. Read about the huge difference a teacher made in the life of my own child.


Below are some ideas and links that may be of some help in these dilemmas.

  • Connect with others. If you know of any, connect up with other parents/carers that you believe may be in similar situations to yourself
  • Where possible, talk with those who know the new class or school already and may be able to suggest best staff connectors
  • Go into the school. If you are able, get into the school during the first week or two. Make an excuse to get in there. Take some of the below information with you and suggest that they might be useful to those key people in school. Ask to speak with the Class Teacher or other member of the Class Team at a time mutually convenient.
  • Take a look at the suggestions and ideas contained in the articles below. Think again along the lines of what it is most important (vital) for my child’s teacher to know from Day 1? (If key people are NOT aware of how and WHY my child is likely to react in different ways to certain situations, issues are likely to arise.) 
  • Signpost information for teachers.  Not all teachers will have expereience with children who are adopted or fostered   This blog has a helpful list of Thought provoking ideas for teachers and other adults in school working particularly with Adopted/Looked After Children to bear in mind.
  • Access pupil premium.  Your school can get ensure additional funds for your child and it may help with training or resources. Emma Spillane wrote about how to access this here.
  • Keep researching. Emma Spillane writes some really helpful blogs including here (Supporting school year transitions from home  – starting a new school year) and here  (Supporting transitions between school years within an education setting.)
  • Rebecca Brooks, Adoption UK’s education advisor wrote a book “The Trauma And Attachment Aware Classroom.” Rebecca herself describes this book as being one she wishes she had read when she was teaching in school. (As a teacher myself, I would thoroughly recommend this read.) You might pick one up and if you think it will help, take it into school or sections of it, – it might just make the difference.

Pete Brindley is a Teacher, former School Senior Leader and Group Theraplay Facilitator at Beacon Family Services and can be contacted on 0121 270 0592                     

For more information about how Theraplay® Groups could help you and your child OR/AND your child’s school, contact Pete on the number above or email

To learn more about Beacon Family Services’ work with families, visit our website or sign up to our mailing list.