Some people see labels, where I see signposts; there is no denying that the language we use can be powerful. Today I was reminded of the importance of language and how long it can take for words to become embedded in our everyday experiences.

Within the same 60-minute period this morning I heard of two senior educational professionals in different local authorities who had not taken on board the significance of the words ‘care-experienced’. To be honest, it shocked me! We are a few years into hearing the word ‘care-experienced’ in education circles in Scotland; yet there is obviously still some work to be done when professionals don’t realise that adopted children are ‘care-experienced’.

As an adopter I live and breathe adoption so perhaps it’s no surprise I embrace the word. Being so involved in the adoption community has increased my knowledge and understanding of the impact of trauma ten-fold. Quite honestly, I learn something new every day in terms of adoption, trauma and education. I absolutely get the enormity of the terminology ‘care-experienced’.

I see the impact of this experience on my daughter every single day. I see layers of impact at different ages and stages. I see the impact on relationships with adults; the impact on relationships with peers; the impact on ability to process language and to juggle the academic demands of school. Right now, I see a growing interest in siblings and birth family while she processes another layer of her adoption story. I know this will continue throughout her life as she reaches each new milestone.

However, today I realised that not everyone is as lucky as I am – they don’t live and breathe adoption! The majority of educational professionals have not grasped the significance of the terminology ‘care-experienced’. Perhaps, some even think that it’s change-for-change’s sake or simply the new ‘in’ word: a fad!

To be fair, I can see where the confusion lies: the Scottish government and schools collect their education information using the SEEMIS database. Unfortunately, this database does not yet use the wording ‘care-experienced’. Instead, it uses the statutory terms ‘Looked After’ and ‘Previously Looked After’ and there-in lies the rub: adopted children are no longer ‘Looked After’! Once the adoption order has been granted, there is no obligation on adoptive families to share the adoption status with schools. If a child moves between authorities, there may be no record of them being ‘Previously Looked After’ once they are post-adoption. Adoption makes the impact of ‘care-experience’ almost invisible to wider society; but the truth is the effect of ‘care-experience’ is both very real and long lasting.

However, kudos to the Scottish government for leading the way on inclusive policy and practice. Research clearly shows the long-term impact of care-experience and quite rightly the government have put into place supports for young people to help reduce any barriers caused by this experience. The Scottish Government information on the Care Experienced Children and Young People Fund  clearly states:

the term ‘care-experienced’ refers to anyone who has been or is currently in care or from a looked-after background at any stage in their life, no matter how short, including adopted children who were previously looked-after.

The supports that each local authority puts into place for care-experienced children should be available to all groups affected by care-experience however they are labelled: looked after, previously looked after, looked after and accommodated, residential, foster, kinship, adopted and looked after at home.

I would urge all adoptive families to take advantage of the supports on offer and make sure that your child’s school is aware of their adopted status. This then enables the school to apply for additional supports or funding as and when they exist or are required. I would urge you to use the term ‘care-experienced’ when you talk with family, friends and, of course, school staff. Be explicit and state clearly the inclusive nature of this word. The more people who begin to understand the significance of this terminology and who use it in their social interactions, the better.

Let’s harness the power of language.