10 Questions – Senior Education Officer

For this months 10 Questions we sat down with our Senior Education Officer Claire, to talk about all things exam related, the educational supports available with FFI, the move from primary to secondary school and third level education options.

1) Education is incredibly important at FFI. Can you describe your role and outline what FFI provide to young people to help maximise their potential?

My role is to support the foster family in promoting success in education for the young person placed in their care. From advising and supporting the foster carer in their role as advocate and support, to liaising with schools, to working directly with young people themselves.

Many young people coming into the care system are at a disadvantage in their educational journey as well as their care journey, often behind their peers. It can be difficult for them to catch up. As a qualified and experienced teacher, I can work directly with young people to help them engage with their learning supporting them to find ways they can learn, complete homework, study, and plan for their future in education. This time of year I am busy helping young people in their last few days’ preparation for their Leaving and Junior Cert exams, making sure they know the papers’ structure, time needed etc.

2) Parents and carers provide the biggest support to children during their education. What is your role in supporting our foster carers?

Our foster carers act as strong advocates for young people placed in their care. I assist them in supporting the young person at home with homework and study, advice and support in liaising with school staff, advice and support in helping guide the young person throughout their educational journey and in planning ahead for leaving school and leaving foster care.

3) How would you describe your role in working with schools?

Schools have a lot to deal with when trying to get through a curriculum and manage a classroom with many and varied needs ? educational, social, emotional, and cognitive. Alongside the foster carer and social worker, I advocate on behalf of the young person placed with FFI. Very often a young person will thrive when a teacher (or teachers) have understanding and perspective on where the young person’s difficulties are coming from, and that a positive teacher-student relationship can go a long way in helping that young person do well in school. Liking school, or at least some aspect of school, is so important!

4) Exams are fast approaching, what advice do you have for parents of young people sitting exams?

I think as adults we can look back at our own journey through education and realise that the exams are not “the be-all and end-all”. It is important that young people know they are supported and loved no matter what. The old phrase of “do your best” comes to mind! If the work has been done up to now, I would advise that the adults keep perspective when the young person might be losing theirs through stress or pressure. Rest, good food and exercise are important in the lead up to the exams. There are many paths to getting into a career or job you will enjoy.

5) CAO selections are always a popular topic of discussion this time of year. What advice do you have for young people completing their CAO and planning for further education?

The final date for change of mind is July 1st up until that date young people can change their CAO lists, add to them etc. it is really important that they put the course they really want first. A big mistake young people make is assuming they won’t get the points, so they don’t put the course they really want as number 1. A student will only get one offer from their list of level 6/7 and one from their list of level 8. This year is the first year of the new points system, so it will be interesting to see what difference it makes when it comes to the offers in August.

6) For many young people the CAO might not be the right path, what advice do you give to young people and their families about other options?

This is so important. The CAO is not the only route to further education and completing a degree if that’s the ultimate aim. There are so many PLCs (level 5) available all around the country. A young person can complete a level 5 in one year, and move on to do a level 6, 7 and 8 if they so wish. It might take a little longer, but it is an ideal path for anyone who is not sure what course they want to do, or for those who might not get enough points for their chosen path. Equally, many level 5 courses can lead to jobs in a number of different fields. I work directly with young people placed with FFI to support them in choosing paths to suit them.

7) June also marks the end of an era for children finishing primary school, what advice do you have for parents and carers when it comes to preparing for and starting secondary school?

Choosing the right school, where there is choice, should be based on your child’s personality, aptitude and interests. One school might have more practical subjects on offer than another, or have Leaving Cert Applied (LCA) as a course option for Leaving Cert, or do more sport or music. After that, getting to know the school yourself will help you in supporting your child settle in what are the different subjects about? What will they learn? You can explore a little together.

Following a timetable, moving from class to class, getting to know different teachers, managing homework in different subjects, can all be confusing and overwhelming for some young people. Keeping communication going after school in a positive way will help you know how things are going for your child, and how to support them.

8) Social Media and in particular, smart phone technology play a large part in the lives of children and young people every day. Do you see this as something that can cause distraction in school or just another form of communication?

The answer is both. Schools are doing their best to keep on top of the latest trend for their students. Many schools are embracing technology and using it well in their classrooms. Many schools are also working with young people on the dangers of social media, and is something that parents and carers need to keep up to date with too. Again, open and honest communication is important. FFI provide good training for our Carers in keeping up to date with technology.

9) You’ve worked with FFI for almost 9 years. In that time what would you identify as the greatest education success story you’ve seen?

Every year brings successes big and small. What might appear small to some, will be a huge achievement for an individual child or young person: A young person being the first in their family to do the Leaving Cert, a child who previously refused to go to school finishing out a year with full attendance, a young person smiling coming home from school with a piece of work they completed and presenting it to proud foster carers, a young person saying they like school!

In FFI we strive to have all young people under 18 in education. We strive to have every 18 year old leaving care with happy memories of school, a qualification of some sort, and a plan to continue on in education.

10) What advice would you give to anyone thinking about becoming a foster carer?

Every day I speak with foster carers who are doing an amazing job. They learn to go with the flow, to start with the child or young person where they are at and support them in moving on from there. They are strong advocates for the young people in their care. Anyone who is thinking about becoming a foster carer already have the capacity to open their hearts and homes to young people, and can be supported in becoming great foster carers.

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