ADOPTED CHILDREN SCHOOL SUCCESS, SOCIAL INCLUSION AND ADJUSTMENT PROBLEMS: THE ROLE OF MULTIPLE RISK FACTORS AND THE ITALIAN GUIDELINES TO PROMOTE ADOPTEES’ RIGHT TO EDUCATION
1University of Bari, Department of Political Sciences, CI.FOR.MEF. Research Centre, Italy; 2University of Bari, Department of Educational Sciences, Psychology, Communication,CI.FOR.MEF. Research Centre,Italy; 3Mama-Happy; 4University of Bari, Department of Educational Sciences, Psychology, CI.FOR.MEF. Research Centre, Communication, Italy
Examining the variables influencing school performance and inclusion is a relevant goal in adoption research, as adoptees’ learning difficulties are comparable to those of students living in disadvantaged families (Molin, Cazzola, Cornoldi, 2009) and increase their vulnerability to maladjustment and social exclusion.
Nevertheless, the multiple adoptees’ risk factors linked to adoptees’ learning difficulties (Ferriti and Guerrieri, 2020) and its consequences are little explored. In Italy, although the “Linee di indirizzo per il diritto allo studio degli alunni adottati” were approved several years ago, the suggestions contained in them to promote adoptees’ school inclusion are often not applied.
This contribution, thanks to the cooperation between academics and practitioners working in adoption field, describes an explorative study conducted with a mixed-method and a multiple informant approach to investigate:
a) factors influencing adoptees’ school performance and inclusion, adjustment and social inclusion, in a sample of both domestic and foreign adopted children..
b) the extent to which the recommendations of aforementioned Italian guidelines are met in the experience of a sample of Apulian adoptive families.
In the quantitative step of the research, about 70 adoptive families with children between 6 to 14 of age were recruited to participate in the study.
Filling out a questionnaire, parents provided information about adoptees’ gender, age at adoption, ethnicity, the use of a personalized teaching plan and the presence of linguistic, concentration and attention disorders certified by experts. They completed also a pre-adoptive early adversities scale.
In terms of outcomes, parents were requested to give information on their adopted children's a) learning difficulties, b) school and social inclusion, c) school performance, and d) adjustment problems by using SDQ. The assessment of most of the outcomes was replied by asking the Mama-Happy operators to compile the same measures.
In the qualitative step of the research, two focus group discussions with adoptive parents were carried out to explore more deeply adopted children educational placement and path and examine the weaknesses of educational systems and the obstacles that adoptive families face.
Expected outcomes and use of results
Data collection is in progress. However, quantitative data will be analysed to explore a) the degree of application of the guidelines in the experience of the participants; b) which risk factors influence more adoptees’ school performance and inclusion, adjustment and social inclusion. Qualitative data will be examined by qualitative content analysis to highlight weaknesses, challenges and suggestions to improve educational systems and reflect on possible strategies to develop cooperation networks between school workers, local third sector organizations’ professionals and adoptive parents to meet the educational needs of adopted children and promote their adjustment and social inclusion.
Ferritti, M., & Guerrieri, A. (2020). Adopted students and intersectionality, starting points for a first analysis. Educazione Interculturale, 18(2), 59-69.
Molin, A., Cazzola, C., & Cornoldi, C. (2009). Le difficolta di apprendimento di bambini stranieri adottati [The learning difficulties of adopted foreign children]. Psicologia Clinica dello Sviluppo, 13(3), 563–578.
INCLUSION, WELLBEING, SHARING: STORYTELLING AND LISTENING IN A CIRCLE. HOW TO BUILD INCLUSION IN CLASSROOM SETTINGS
School is no longer just a place of study; we are constantly learning about its important role in the social, emotional and relational development of individuals. When pupils enter their classroom they carry inside their personal life. Teachers sometimes encounter stories full of "emptiness" and at other times those that are too "much" to handle. In order to help these experiences be voiced and unfolded in an inclusive setting, creation of specific moments dedicated to "storytelling” and “listening" is essential. Experience to-date with foster-care and adopted pupils has taught us that it is crucial to dedicate specific attention to these children, given also that in recent years their age of entry into a stable family environment is much higher and this significantly impacts schooling and learning.
The considerations that can be drawn from their life experience must not lead us to single out these pupils and expose their vulnerabilities, increasing stereotypes both within the classroom and socially, but should rather be aimed at providing new and meaningful opportunities of inclusion, concentrating activities on the importance of diversity, uniqueness, caring for others, trust, resilience, empathy.
This presentation aims to illustrate how to work in classrooms using transverse methods in teaching practice so that each pupil is given time to “feel safe” and come to terms with his/her feelings, to gradually develop relationships with others, feel free to voice feelings or be silent, or to use images as expressive means, if he/she wishes.
Following approval of the guidelines for the inclusion and wellbeing of adoptees in schools issued by the Italian Ministry of Education in 2014, classroom workshops were introduced from 2015 to-date, in schools with nursery to secondary school age pupils.
The activities over the years involved manual methods; using illustrated book-reading, listening to music, viewing films, pupils were asked to express their views and were left free to “create” something with the aim of sharing what they had produced (from book-to-book according to Munari’s methodology or creating multimedia storytelling).
During classroom activities the teacher’s presence was considered essential, since he/she not only participates actively, but is also the true “instrument” able to guide pupils to continue relating with their schoolfriends and thus improve awareness and understanding of each other.
Families were also involved in the educational classroom workshops so that pupils would also find an inclusive environment at home, in “continuity” with school activities.
Over the years, the classes that had continued with the educational classroom workshops reported a feeling of greater well-being when working together, pupils did not feel "obliged to speak", but their perception was that they were free to do so and that their experience and timing was respected.
 Guerrieri A., Nobile M., Una scuola aperta all'adozione, Pisa, Ets (Collana Genitori si diventa), 2016.
 51.282 children were adopted internationally to Italy between 2000-2019; about 50% were aged 5-9 years.
“Linee di indirizzo per l’accoglienza e il benessere degli alunni adottati”
 La Spezia province and Sesto Fiorentino (Florence province)
LEARNING DIFFICULTIES OF OUT-OF-HOME CARE CHILDREN: MAGNITUDE, CHARACTERISTICS AND COPING STRATEGIES
Università di Torino, Italy
Children with strong socio-psycho-educational problems, such as children who have lived in high-risk contexts especially in early childhood, are most likely to experience difficulties in school. According to several studies, in fact, conditions such as the absence of a stable caregiver capable of providing adequate care, both material and affective, the deprivation of cognitive stimuli, living in chaotic contexts and even the mother's assumption of alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, can significantly affect the cognitive and affective development of children, with considerable effects on their learning and school adaptation (Chamberland et al., 2015). It is internationally known that children out-of-home care tend to experience school failure, which is also related to their high school mobility (Hansson, Gustafsson, 2020), with a gap that tends to increase with age (Jackson & Cameron, 2012). Scholars also note inconsistent school attendance especially in adolescents (Zorc et al., 2013) as well as significant disciplinary measures (Sebba et al., 2015) related to the occurrence of behavioural and emotional self-regulation disorders (Liu et al., 2014). There are also high percentages of out-of-home care children placed in special education (Zetlin, Weinberg, & Shea 2006), showing high levels of drop-out when multiple risk factors are combined (Clemens et al., 2019). These difficulties are also confirmed by Italian surveys (Belotti, 2010). In this contribution we will report the findings of three studies carried out in Italy between 2018 and 2021. The first research (Ricchiardi, Coggi, 2019) addressed a sample of 298 foster families, highlighting the extent and type of learning difficulties of the foster children, as well as the differences in relation to their school level and age of arrival in foster care. The second study (Ricchiardi, Coggi, 2020) provides a quantitative survey on the characteristics of 408 minors entrusted to Piedmontese community families from 1995 to 2019 as well as a qualitative analysis of the minutes of the monthly meetings of the support group of said families, recorded for 10 years. This in-depth study made it possible to detect, among other things, how much school difficulties affect the well-being of the foster family, how they interweave with other problems, how they evolve and how they weigh on the long-term life trajectories of the children. The third survey (n=275), on the other hand, aimed at highlighting not only the difficulties but also the knowledge gained by the foster families, that is, the coping strategies that proved effective in addressing the difficulties in and out of school. The capitalisation of the knowledge acquired by the foster carers through their experience, training and discussions in support groups can be a resource to better train new foster families, to make them able to effectively face school difficulties and, more in general, to be better prepared to accompany the children and young people in their care in the construction of a meaningful life project. The experience of foster parents can also be useful to build a welcoming culture at school, making it a context of resilience and not an additional risk factor.
REINVENTING THE FAMILY IN FOSTER CARE. LEARNING, BELONGING AND NEW FAMILY BOUNDARIES FOR CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE AND FOSTER SIBLINGS
University of Verona, Italy
Within growing attention to children’s voices in research, the international literature has produced a number of contributions on children’s perspectives of foster care, with a special focus on children in care (Fernandez, 2009). Fewer studies have been devoted to the population of the foster parents’ biological and legal children (Serbinski, Shlonsky, 2014).
So far, the point of view of the two groups has been considered separately. Although their life trajectories are highly specific, when we focus on the construction of family, a cross-cutting perspective on the two groups of children can offer new insights on how fostering involves learning and change for both. It also allows to focus on the participants’ perspective of their intimate experiences in relation to wider social processes within the Italian context, where a foster family is both a transgression of the “natural” (biological) family myth and a highly valued form of solidarity.
The family practices approach (Morgan, 2011) has set a widely accepted framework for understanding families beyond their mere structure, based on concrete practices, and some authors have also used this approach as a base for interpreting the sense of belonging experienced by children who are cared for outside their family of origin (Biehal, 2014). Family foster care provides an interesting perspective for observing both “doing” and “displaying” family as key processes of family construction in the social space. The multiple, complex set of family relationships that foster care depicts is an “unexpected” family for many. A family that somehow disrupts the expectations about what a family is, puts the actors in the condition to expose their bond as a family relationship, and therefore to be constantly solicited to display themselves as “family” in different settings (Finch, 2007). Furthermore, as Gabb (2011) pointed out, “displaying” family is often based on the family narratives available, embedded within shared dominant representations of family that circulate in a social environment. This makes it very difficult for children and youth living in “non-standard” family configurations to find their own ways to display them and not be overcome by narrative clichés.
The presentation is focused on the main results of an interview research involving 69 children and youth who currently live in foster families in Italy, as children in care and as biological children of the foster parents. The results highlight the intense work children do in constructing and naming family ties, in displaying their family in social contexts, and in learning about themselves, the family, and their multiple belongings throughout foster care.