Your child starting school is an exciting milestone in their life, but when exactly does this journey begin? In the United Kingdom, education is a fundamental right, which means each school must meet specific legal obligations.
The age in which children start school in the UK depends on where they live, with each of the four nations having a few minor differences and options available for parents.
What age do children start school in the UK?
In the UK, children are typically entitled to start school in the September following their fourth birthday. This is known as the Reception year, and it is the earliest year that a child can start primary school in the UK. The eldest children in the year group will turn five at the start of Reception.
However, children aren’t legally obligated to start school until they are of Compulsory School Age in the UK, which is a set point in the year following their fifth birthday. For example:
- Children who turn five between 1st September and 31st December reach Compulsory School Age on 31st December.
- Children who turn five between 1st January and 31st March reach Compulsory School Age on 31st March.
- Children who turn five between 1st April and 31st August reach Compulsory School Age on 31st August.
If a child is born in the summer between 1st April and 31st August, they do not have to start school until a full year after they could have been admitted.
This is a general rule of thumb across the UK, with the only exception being that children in Scotland are entitled to start school in the August following their fourth birthday.
How do I apply for a school place?
If your child is going to attend a state school, then you must apply through your local council/authority. Even if your child attends a nursery on a school site, they will not be guaranteed a place at that school and a separate application will need to be made.
The application window opens on different days across various council areas in the UK, so it’s important to keep an eye on your local authority’s website at the start of the Autumn term the year before your child starts school. Applications typically close on 15th January each year.
If you want to send your child to a private school, it’s important to remember that the application process differs depending on the chosen school. Rather than contacting your local authority, you will need to contact the school directly. Some private schools require children to complete an age-appropriate assessment during the application process.
Can I defer my child’s admission?
If your child is born between 1st April and 31st August, you have the right to request they defer their admission into school until later in the academic year. There can be various reasons for this, such as delayed social, emotional or physical development, which will affect their readiness for school.
In some instances, you can also delay your child’s admission into school by a full academic year, though this should be heavily considered beforehand. If you request this, the school has the right to decide whether the child can start Reception a year later, or if they will go into Year 1 with their age group.
If you request your child start school a year late, you will still need to apply for a regular school place in September after their fourth birthday. Information should also be submitted that supports the request, such as a statement or medical records with reports from relevant healthcare professionals.
Your request will then be taken into account by the local authority or schools governing body, who will consider the child’s individual needs and abilities. The admission authority will then let you know if your request has been granted before primary school National Offer Day, which usually takes place mid-April.
If the request to defer a year is granted, you must withdraw your child’s primary school application and re-apply the following year. If the request is denied, you can continue the application and start at the normal year, or refuse the place, skip reception and apply to start Year 1 the following year.
Can I send my child to school part-time?
Some schools across the UK offer a staggered entry for new Reception starters, where children attend part-time to get used to the new environment. However, this option is only available if the child is not at Compulsory School Age, where they will then have to attend school full-time.
What is early years education?
The years prior to mandatory education are known as pre-school, nursery, early-years education of the early years’ foundation stage (EYFS) across the UK. Your child will then move out of this stage when they are old enough to move into Key Stage 1.
Following their third birthday, all children across the UK are entitled to 15 hours of funded early-years education per week. These places are available at any setting registered to receive the Nursery Education Grant, and include pre-schools, day nurseries and child minders, which are all regularly inspected by Ofsted.
It is not compulsory for your child to receive early-years education, but it can help prepare them for school at the primary school level and give them a chance to gain social skills and new experiences that they wouldn’t necessarily get in a home environment.
It is possible for your child to receive early-years education below the age of three, but you will usually have to pay a fee. However, if you are a lower income household, your child may be entitled to 15 hours of funded early-years education per week following their second birthday, depending on family income/benefits.
At Compass, we understand that your child starting school can be a worrying time, which is why we provide all of our foster carers with a variety of different support and benefits. If you’re interested in learning more, get in touch today to receive your free brochure.
Across our courses at Compass Fostering, participants often discuss how to keep children safe on the internet and how to have conversations about their child’s life online. Given the fact that children today are growing up with the internet, it’s incredibly important to communicate with your child about their online presence and identify any risks that come with it, such as online grooming. However, these conversations can feel increasingly difficult for many adults due to a lack of confidence as well as gaps between generations and lived experiences.
While it can be scary, it’s vital to maintain communication and connection with children and young people, as well as our curiosity about what matters to them about life online so that it becomes easier to tackle these difficult conversations about internet safety.
Therefore, here are some tips about having difficult conversations about life online:
Talk openly and frequently about what you’re doing online
A good way to do this is by talking to them about the positive experiences you’ve had online, while also sharing some negative ones and how you’ve dealt with encountering content you didn’t want to see. By being honest with your child about your online life, it’s likely that they will feel more encouraged to share some details about their own. It’s good to start by asking your child about the sites that they visit and what they enjoy doing online to further maintain open communication between you both.
Make space for enjoying and exploring the online world together
Play games, watch videos and express an interest in your child’s online life – be curious and have fun! Celebrate all of the opportunities that technology has to offer and show them what a great space the internet can be when used responsibly. You could even ask your child to show you how to do something better online, as they will love teaching you about something that matters to them.
Dedicate time to talk about using the internet as a family and agree on online expectations
You can do this by setting some time aside to talk to the whole family about the role technology plays in your lives. For example, ask your children about how they stay safe online and where they learned to do that. It’s also important to use this discussion to establish rules and expectations that encourage the meaningful use of technology, in the same way that you would set boundaries in other areas of your child’s life. It’s important to review these regularly and adapt them for each member of your family, taking care to ensure your children have an individual, safer online plan with actions to maintain this.
Learn about the apps, games and websites that your child is using
After communicating with your child about their life online, it’s important to do some valuable research into the apps, games and websites that they are using. By doing this, you can adapt your child’s online safety plan accordingly should anything go wrong. There are lots of tools and guides to support your child’s internet safety on whatever online platform they are using, and you will be able to check age ratings, privacy settings and safety features such as blocking and reporting.
Support and reassure your child if things go wrong
It’s important to remind your child that they can talk to you about anything. However, in some instances, your child might be too nervous to speak to you if something has gone wrong in their online life. Therefore, it’s important to ask your child if they know where to go for help and identify if there are other individuals they may feel comfortable speaking to. If something goes wrong, listen and respond with reassurance and kindness. You can work with your child and the team around them to find solutions to the problem, such as by using online safety features or seeking advice from other professionals involved.
Ultimately, we are hoping to see these conversations take place with our young people in their participation events, in our foster carers’ support groups, in our schools and more importantly, with each other. By doing this, we can help children and young people access all of the amazing things that happen online, while also keeping them safe.
At Compass, we also have courses on internet safety delivered by our team of trainers throughout the year, which can also be accessed via our Training Hub. During the month we have organised webinars for young people of primary and secondary school age, as well as for their foster carers. There are many informative pages on social media to keep updated, and Childnet has a helpful family agreement guide to help the discussion around rules online.
If you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, Compass offers comprehensive safeguarding training to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child or young person in your care. To find out more about fostering with us, get in touch with our team today.
More individuals and families are becoming interested in fostering across the UK.
A GOV.UK report on fostering shows that in March 2022, there were 43,905 fostering households in England, with the total number of households approved to foster increasing from 14% in 2018 to 18% in 2022. Moreover, most children in foster care are under three years of age. In fact, 75% are under the age of 1!
If you’re a foster carer, you’ll know that it can be intimidating to care for more than one child—especially if they’re both under two years of age. However, with the proper preparation, you’re sure to be a great foster carer, even with two children.
On that note, here are a few essentials to prepare you for two new arrivals.
A Double Pushchair
Carrying or travelling with two children isn’t easy because both arms will be occupied! It can even be unsafe, as you might lose your balance. For this reason, a pushchair that can accommodate both children is a must.
The double pushchairs at iCandy can comfortably fit two children, especially one baby and one toddler. One child sits behind the other, making it convenient to manoeuvre through doorways, pavements, and public transportation. You can even detach the other seat and turn it into a baby carrier if that’s more convenient.
When choosing a high-quality double pushchair, ensure that it has sturdy harnesses and durable tyres that can withstand different surfaces and terrains. These contribute to keeping the children safe when they’re in the pushchair.
Children need their own sleeping space. Our article ‘Can Foster Children Share a Bedroom?’ reminds us that foster care bedroom requirements state that children aged three and up need separate bedrooms.
Fortunately, you have yet to worry about this as a foster carer for children under two. What you can do, however, is prepare separate beds according to each child’s age.
For example, an infant needs a cot. If they sleep with a companion, they may get suffocated. Meanwhile, a child under two needs a toddler bed. These have low railings that prevent them from falling over the edge. Getting separate beds guarantees the safety and comfort of each child!
A Spacious Changing Bag
Twice the kids mean twice the belongings! When taking them for a short day trip, you’ll have difficulty carrying two bags while managing both children. A spacious changing bag is a remedy for this.
For instance, the shoulder changing bag from Vanchi offers many compartments for two children’s belongings, including nappies, extra clothes, and milk bottles. It’s also practical and versatile because it’s lightweight and can be clipped onto a pushchair or carried as a shoulder bag, depending on your preference.
A changing bag with lots of room for various essentials makes trips and appointments more convenient for you and the children.
Having toys is not just a perk but a benefit for children. It gives them entertainment and an opportunity to experience different colours, textures, and sounds – contributing to child emotional development!
Having appropriate toys for both children—depending on their age—can help them feel more comfortable in their new home and pick up some knowledge along the way. For infants and those under a year old, colourful shape-sorters and stacking rings are a great idea to keep them busy and allow them to explore textures.
For toddlers under two years, wooden puzzles such as the one from Bigjigs Toys challenge their developing mental abilities. Providing toys for both children prevents them from fighting over the same ones and encourages them to learn and seek adventure.
Fostering two under two children can be a challenge, but it can also be fulfilling. Prepare these essentials to give them the best stay with you.
Online grooming is when someone uses the internet to build a relationship with a child or young person, with the intention of exploiting them. They may manipulate, pressure, or trick the young person into sharing personal information, or explicit images or videos of themselves.
Many of us enjoy interacting with and talking to other people online. Social media sites have made this kind of communication easy and talking with others is a great way to feel connected and part of a community.
However, not everyone is who they say they are – especially on the internet. For some children and young people, this can be a difficult concept to come to terms with, especially when they feel like they can trust and confide in the people they’ve met online.
As online platforms continue to develop, and with online grooming crimes rising by more than 80% in the last four years, it’s important that parents and caregivers know how to identify grooming behaviour. Thankfully, parenting courses can help you learn more about the risks and signs of online grooming, and how to protect your child from potential harm.
Disclaimer: this article contains descriptions of grooming, sexual abuse and other sensitive topics that could be distressing for some individuals.
What is Online Child Grooming?
Most online grooming definitions refer to the process of building a trusting relationship with a child or young person on the internet, and subsequently using that relationship to exploit them.
They may be a stranger, or someone the child knows in real life and will often use the online platforms children use to build rapport and make a connection. Children can be groomed online through:
- Social media networks
- Gaming sites
The predator may also ask the child for their phone number (if they have a mobile phone), so that they can message the child or young person directly using text, or a messaging app like WhatsApp.
Types of Grooming
Online groomers target children and young people for various reasons. Some of the most common types of online grooming are:
- Sexual Abuse. They may encourage the child to share sexually explicit messages, images, or videos of themselves.
- Radicalisation. They may try to convert the child to support or become involved in extremist ideologies.
- Theft. They may attempt to obtain personal information about the child’s family, such as financial information.
These different types of grooming are not mutually exclusive. A predator may have multiple intentions when grooming a child – depending on what they think they can get out of the situation.
How to Identify Grooming Behaviour
So, what does online grooming really look like? And what are the signs of grooming that parents and caregivers should look out for?
Below, we’ve broken down the online grooming process step-by-step, including how a predator might develop a connection and relationship with a child.
We’ve also included some tips for what parents and caregivers should look out for, and what you should do if you think your child is being groomed online.
Creating A Persona
The first stage of online grooming often involves the creation of a persona. It’s important to note that not all online predators use a persona. However, due to the nature of online platforms, the internet can sometimes make it easier for predators to gain access to children or young people – as they can pretend to be someone they’re not.
Some groomers use fake images or names, impersonate celebrities, or adopt a mentor persona to get close to the child. Others may imitate someone who is already close to the child in real life, such as a family member, school friend or trusted authority figure – like a doctor, or teacher.
Tip: Review your child’s internet usage regularly and make note of any new connection requests, friend invites, messages, or interactions from accounts you don’t recognise. Likewise, be suspicious of any interaction your child has with celebrity figures or online influencers, and make sure to always look for the ‘verified’ symbol that most social media sites have.
Establishing A Connection
Next, the predator will begin to form a connection with the child. Online abusers will often establish a connection with a child or young person by pretending to share similar hobbies or interests.
They may compliment the child on their skills in an online game or reach out about a recent picture they have posted on their social media. They may also reach out with an exciting or exclusive offer for your child to gain their interest.
Tip: Keep an eye out for any changes in your child’s internet usage and device usage. Are they suddenly texting much more than usual? Are they being secretive about their online activity? Most social media sites and online platforms have built-in parental controls that you can make use of. Your Wi-Fi will also have certain configurations you can set that will limit which websites your child can access.
Filling A Need
Once this connection is established, the predator will begin to deepen the emotional connection they have with the child or young person by attempting to find and fill any needs the child has. According to a 2012 study, this is the most dominant stage of the online grooming process.
The predator may talk to them about their family and school life or try to find any insecurities that the child has. They will then provide the child with comfort or companionship, talking them through their issues, and providing advice where needed. They may even provide financial support or send the child gifts, to strengthen the relationship.
The groomer may also form a romantic relationship with the child – especially if this is something the child or young person appears to need. They may shower the child or young person with compliments, flattery and praise in order to fulfil their own agenda – this is sometimes known as “love bombing” them.
Tip: Look out for physical and emotional changes in your child. Does your child have money, or new things like clothes, games, or gadgets that they can’t or won’t explain? Are they expressing views that don’t align with things they have said in the past? Have they mentioned an older boyfriend or girlfriend that you haven’t met? These could be indicators that your child is engaging in a dangerous relationship online.
Isolating The Child
As the relationship develops, the next step involves isolating the child from their real-world connections. The predator will build a relationship with the child that is deliberately separate from other aspects of the child’s life.
They may assert that they have a ‘special bond’ with the child, or that they are the only one who really understands them. They may also sow doubt about the intentions or feelings of the child’s family or friends by questioning relationships and manipulating situations to make the child feel like they cannot turn to their family or friends for help.
Tip: Be conscious of any changes to how your child is interacting with the people in their life. Does your child appear more withdrawn or aloof than usual? They may avoid conversations or spend more time in their room or out of the house. It may also be worth speaking to their school about their performance, and how they are interacting with their teachers and peers.
Desensitisation And Exploitation
At this point, the predator has established what seems like a deeply trusting relationship with the child. They may begin to introduce intimate and inappropriate behaviour and conversations, in an effort to normalise them.
This includes asking intimate questions about the child, describing explicit activities, or even sharing explicit content directly with the child. Modelling this type of behaviour desensitises the child and encourages them to reciprocate.
The abuser uses the trust they have built in their relationship with the child to coerce or pressure the child into giving them what they want. This often involves the child sharing explicit images and videos of themselves. They may also try to get the child to meet them in real life.
Tip: Pay attention to any sexualised behaviour, language or knowledge of sex that is not appropriate for your child’s age. Some curiosity is natural but be aware of sexual behaviour that is non typical. NSPCC Learning’s guide on sexual development and behaviour in children shares useful information on what normal child sexual behaviour looks like.
Unfortunately, once a child has shared images or videos of themselves online, they lose control of the content. Anything that the child shares as a result of grooming can sometimes be used to blackmail the child.
The predator may also use shame or blame tactics in order to control the child and the situation, all with the goal of preventing the child from revealing the abuse and exposing the groomer. Blackmail may also be used to pressure the child into further sexual exploitation.
Tip: Be vigilant of your child’s emotional state, and how they react to certain questions. A child that is being groomed may be emotionally volatile as a result. Are they experiencing mood swings more often than usual? Have they had any unusually explosive outbursts?
Safeguarding Against Online Grooming
Any child can be at risk of online grooming – regardless of their gender, age, race, or location. That’s why it’s important to develop an open line of communication with your child to ensure they understand how to be safe online.
Online and Offline Friends
Have a conversation with your child about the difference between online and offline friends. Explain to them that online friends can still be a stranger, no matter how friendly they seem – and that you should never agree to meet with online friends in real life.
Help your child to compile a list of all the differences between people they might know online, and people they know offline. What kind of things help us trust someone? And how can we know someone is who they say they are?
Talk to your child about the warning signs and red flags that might suggest someone is not to be trusted. Warning signs include asking for personal details or to send photos or videos, asking to meet up offline or asking to keep certain things secret.
Discuss with your child: What are normal things to talk about, and what things are not appropriate to talk about? Why might it be dangerous to meet someone offline, or send them personal information or photos? And what should we do if we think someone online is displaying warning signs?
Make sure your child knows that they can come to you if they need help. Some children and young people worry that their parent or caregiver will react badly if they seek help, which can prevent them from doing so.
Reassure your child that they can come to you for help, no matter what has happened. You will be there to support them regardless, and make sure they are safe online.
You should also make sure you’re both aware of where the report and block buttons are on different online platforms, and how to use them. Read about video social networking sites parents should know about here.
Reporting Online Grooming
It can be distressing to think your child or young person might be being groomed online. It can also be incredibly distressing for your child – which is why it’s important to act quickly and seek support.
If you think your child is at immediate risk, call 999. You can also call 101 if you think a crime has been committed.
If your child is being groomed online, you can also make a report to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection service (CEOP). CEOP is a division of the National Crime Agency who help deal with reports of online abuse, including grooming.
Once you have made a report, one of their Child Protection Advisors will get in contact with you. They will help guide your next steps, supporting you to keep your child safe.
You can make a report to CEOP here.
Childline also offer a free counselling service for children and young people who have been affected by online grooming. Children and young people can talk to a counsellor online or over the phone. Conversations with counsellors are completely confidential and offer valuable one-to-one support.
Find out more about getting support from ChildLine here.
When it comes to safeguarding against online grooming, the most important thing is to make sure your child knows how to keep safe online. Being aware of the signs of grooming and paying attention to your child’s internet usage will also help protect your child from online predators.
At Compass, the safety and wellbeing of our children and young people is our top priority. We work tirelessly to ensure that our children and young people’s needs are kept at the heart of every decision we make.
All our foster carers are provided with extensive safeguarding training, ensuring that the wellbeing of the young people in their care is protected both online and offline. To find out more about fostering with us, get in touch with our team today.
With the cost-of-living crisis placing undue financial pressure on households throughout the UK, it’s only natural to want to keep expenses down as a family. Fortunately, whether you’re looking for a snack pit stop or a summer banquet, there are plenty of eateries offering free meals for kids in 2023. So start saving money today! Check out our list of the top places where kids eat free this year.
Where Do Kids Eat Free?
The government offers free school meals for kids throughout the United Kingdom, though rules are different in every part of the UK. In England, children may be able to claim free school meals if they’re in a government-funded school and in reception, year 1 or year 2.
Who is eligible for free school meals?
Your child may be eligible for zero-cost school meals in the UK If you are currently receiving benefits, including Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance. You can easily apply for this benefit on the government’s website. However, please note that if you are currently receiving a fostering allowance, your child will not be eligible for free meals in schools. This is because fostering allowances are designed to be a comprehensive solution for families, covering much more than just the cost of food.
Cafés Where Kids Eat Free
Morrisons Café. At Morrisons, kids can enjoy a complimentary meal including a piece of fruit and their choice of orange juice, apple juice or a refreshing bottle of water. The offer is available when you spend £4.49 or more, and can even be applied to the £8.99 adult meal deal. The little ones have plenty of delicious options to choose from including the all-day breakfast menu or the main menu featuring favourites such as fish fingers & chips or chicken nuggets, chips & peas.
Dunelm. While best known for their furniture and homeware, Dunelm stores are also home to a delightful chain of cafés – Pausa. At Pausa cafés, kids eat free from Monday to Friday after 3pm with every £4 spent in store. So whether you’re on the hunt for a new rug, or just in need of a couple lightbulbs – why not bring the kids along and make the most of this appetising deal?
IKEA. Who doesn’t love an IKEA day out? Part of the joy of IKEA is their Swedish restaurant, offering diners a selection of tasty food – especially their iconic meatballs and gravy! in 2023, kids at IKEA can eat for as little as 95p, or £1.50 for a combination meal. Combo meals include one hot meal, a jelly, soft drink, and a piece of fruit. This offer is available every day from 11am.
Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free
Beefeater & Brewers Fayre. Perfect for early risers or those heading out for a day of adventuring, Beefeater are offering free unlimited breakfast for children at all their locations throughout the UK. Just purchase an adult breakfast and receive complimentary meals for up to two children under 16!
Bella Italia. Hungry for Pizza? Head over to your nearest Bella Italia between 4-6pm, Monday-Thursday, and enjoy a kid’s meal for just £1! This price comes with the purchase of every adult main and includes three delicious courses, a fruit water, and even a colouring sheet to keep the younger kids entertained.
Sizzling Pubs. With hundreds of pubs across England, Scotland and Wales, you’re never far from a Sizzling Pub. Ideal for a relaxed meal, kids can now eat for £1 at all Sizzling Pubs locations! Enjoy a weekday lunch or dinner where the kids get to choose from a huge range of nutritious dishes – from fish fingers, to pasta, to pizza, to chicken wraps, there’s something for even the pickiest of eaters.
These restaurants and cafés are just a few of the many eateries where kids eat free throughout 2023. Alternatively, if eating out isn’t your thing, consider fostering to be given a generous allowance and check out our guide on how to survive the cost of living crisis.
When your children leave home, it can feel bittersweet. You’re happy for them and excited for their future. But you’re also overwhelmed, wondering what comes next for you. Could you be experiencing empty nest syndrome?
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
Almost half of all parents in the UK say they have experienced empty nest syndrome at some point in their lives. Most empty nest syndrome definitions refer to the emotional turmoil that parents experience when their children leave home, in particular the feelings of grief, distress, loss, and anxiety.
This transitional period can be challenging for many parents, with research suggesting that the experience may lead to a variety of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety – impacting both men and women.
Is Empty Nest Syndrome Real?
There is no official diagnosis of empty nest syndrome meaning it is not a recognised medical or psychiatric health condition – however, that doesn’t make it any less real. While not a clinical diagnosis, it is a widely accepted term that many parents and professionals alike are familiar with.
Causes of empty nest syndrome typically include children moving into their own place, going to university, getting married, or leaving to start a new job or go travelling.
However, the feeling of an ‘empty nest’ can be exacerbated by other difficulties, making some parents more susceptible to it than others. This includes people already experiencing difficulties in their relationships (such as marriage issues), single parents, or people who parent full-time.
What Does Empty Nest Syndrome Feel Like?
There are a few key symptoms that can be associated with empty nest syndrome. Everyone experiences it differently. For some people, change can be energising, while other people can find it unsettling and stressful.
You may find that you and your partner or your friends have different symptoms, or that they seem fine, while you’re having a tougher time coping.
Loss of Purpose
From school-runs, to seeing friends, to cooking meals and keeping on top of housework – raising children can be a full-time job. For many parents this means structuring their days around their children’s needs.
But, when children leave home, some parents suddenly find their days feeling empty. You may feel like you’ve lost your purpose and are unsure how to fill your days now that your children have moved out.
Sadness and Grief
Alongside feeling like you’ve lost your purpose, you may be feeling sadness or grief. While moving out of the home is a natural part of growing up for your child, it can be tough to see them go.
You might pass by their old room or find an item that belongs to them and feel tearful – even if you only spoke to them on the phone this morning.
Feeling so many complex emotions might also leave you feeling restless. You may not be able to focus like you used to, or you may find you have a difficult time relaxing.
When our brain’s emotional centres are fired up, we can find it hard to unwind. Some people fear that if they take a moment to pause, their worries and negative feelings might catch up with them.
Fear and Anxiety
You might find yourself preoccupied with your child’s wellbeing now that they’ve left home. What are they doing on a day-to-day basis? Are they safe, and happy?
You may also find you’re experiencing some anxiety about your own circumstances. You may be anxious about what your future holds and be fearful of so much uncertainty.
The symptoms of empty nest syndrome aren’t always negative; some parents feel relief, or even an element of excitement for the next chapter in their journey, and what this new independence could bring.
The combination of both positive and negative emotions may leave you feeling confused or distressed. One minute you’re relishing your newfound freedom, and the next you’re overwhelmed with loneliness – which can be exhausting.
Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome
Empty nest syndrome can be challenging to deal with. It may last a few weeks, while for others, it can last a few months.
A study of 2,000 empty nesters found that, on average, it takes about 3 months and 14 days to recover from empty nest syndrome. But no matter how long your feelings like this last, it’s important to find ways to cope in the meantime.
As difficult as it is, there are some things you can do to help cope with the symptoms of empty nest syndrome.
- Reconnect with yourself. Cast your mind back to your life before you became a parent. What kind of things did you enjoy doing? Parenting can be full-on, and you may find that there are some things you once enjoyed doing, that you’ve since let slip. Perhaps you can pick up an old hobby or try your hand at something new. It might even be time to take that long-delayed holiday!
- Establish new social connections. Now’s the time to draw on your support network and get in touch with old friends. As a parent, you probably barely had any time for yourself – let alone others. Take this an opportunity to rejuvenate your social life. After all, laughter is the best medicine!
- Make time for self-care. The next few months might be tough, which is why it’s important to take care of yourself. With the kids out of the home, this can be the perfect time for some self-care. Find time for mindfulness. Treat yourself to massages. Take long walks in the outdoors. Make the most of your newfound freedom and invest in your wellbeing.
- Revitalise your relationship. If you have a partner, now may be the time to focus on bonding with them. This is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with your partner and reignite the romance, without having to worry about the kids. It’s time to make more memories with just the two of you, from planning date nights, to finding new activities and experiences you can enjoy together.
- Know when to seek help. Coming to terms with this new phase in your life can be challenging. If your empty nest syndrome symptoms are severe, or feel like they’re not getting any better, you may want to seek professional guidance. You may benefit from grief support or therapy, from a trained counsellor who specialises in empty nest syndrome UK.
Consider a Career in Fostering
Some parents feel like they aren’t ready to give up parenting. Caring for children is something they deeply enjoy, and they’re unsure how to translate the skills they’ve learned from parenting into a fulfilling career.
Fortunately, fostering can provide empty nesters with the opportunity to continue making a difference to children’s lives.
There are currently over 80,850 children living in care in the UK. They may not be able to live with their birth family due to abuse or neglect and would benefit greatly from the support and stability that a family home can provide.
That’s where our brilliant foster carers step in. Our foster families help give our children a childhood, providing them with a warm, loving, and caring home and supporting them to secure better futures.
Empty nesters make excellent foster carers because of the skills and experience they’ve already gained through their years of parenting. In fact, nearly 6% of our foster carers turned to fostering because ‘they didn’t feel done with parenting’, while 34% said they chose fostering because they cared about children and wanted to help them.
If you’re looking to put your parenting skills to use and want to make a difference to vulnerable children, consider a career in fostering. Being a foster carer can be incredibly fulfilling, as you’ll witness first-hand the impact of your work on children’s lives.
In a modern world, it’s difficult to avoid the use of technology. The average adult will spend 34 years of their life looking at screens – with a recent poll suggesting people spend nearly 5,000 hours a year using technology.
The negative effects of screen time on child development has becoming a growing issue. Research suggests that too much exposure to technology may hinder children in their developmental years, impacting their ability to communicate, process emotions, maintain attention and achieve quality sleep.
We spoke to Systemic Psychotherapist Michelle Newman Brown, on the effects of too much screen time on child development. Michelle is the Senior Director of our Therapeutic Services, with over 30 years of experience working with children and young people.
How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
Many parents and caregivers turn to screens to help keep younger children entertained. The use of colourful cartoons and catchy tunes as a ‘babysitter’ near doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many parents sought to keep the kids busy during month after month of lockdowns.
Nowadays, 61% of 5-15 year olds have their own tablet, and 55% their own smartphone. But how much screen time is too much?
While there are no definitive answers, experts advise children should be limited to no more than two hours of screen time a day. However, children under 18 months should have a zero screen time rule (with the exception of the occasional video call), while for children aged two to five years old, the recommended limit is one hour a day.
Of course, there are also many benefits to technology for children and young people. As Michelle Newman Brown tells us, ‘there are educational components to many electronic devices,’ including access to a wealth of information that enables them to learn, explore and grow.
Still, Michelle recommends ‘finding ways of enabling our young people to spend less of their time using technology,’ as ‘young people need a rich and broad means of developing their brains’ – something that too much screen usage can interfere with.
Screen Time and Child Development
Children develop skills through playing and interacting with the world around them, improving cognitive abilities such as problem-solving and self-expression. Spending too much time on screens can inhibit their engagement with their environment, which is why providing off-screen experiences is critical.
If children fail to engage properly with the environment around them, they may experience delays in their development that can impact them later in life.
Decreased Attention Span
Did you know that boredom can actually be good for you? Technology and social media can make passing the time easy, capturing our attention and (sometimes) resulting in us spending hours on electronic devices.
Yet, allowing the brain to be bored can actually be positive, stimulating our creativity and problem-solving and allowing our brains to recharge. Social media, among other things, can alter our attention span. The quick, instant gratification associated with the use of screens can influence the brain’s ability to focus on things that might be less stimulating.
Children who are exposed to too much screen time at a young age can suffer from a decrease in attention span. Being constantly stimulated by screens means children forget how to rely on themselves or others for entertainment, discouraging them from using their imagination and engaging with the environment around them.
Getting enough sleep is essential when it comes to child development. Sleep is crucial for maintaining mental and physical health, affecting everything from children’s cognitive performance, to their learning, to their mood.
When children are exposed to too much screen time, their sleep can suffer. This is because electronic screens emit blue light, a type of light that can suppress melatonin levels and delay sleepiness.
Technology should be limited especially in the hours before bedtime – allowing enough time for children’s brains to wind down before bed.
Screens are increasingly being used to replace in-person interaction, with technological tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Facetime being used more and more in our day-to-day lives.
More time spent in front of screens means less time spent interacting, playing and engaging with their peers. Children learn to navigate interpersonal relationships from a young age; a lack of face-to-face interaction reduces children’s ability to read faces, meaning they may struggle to understand and interpret non-verbal cues.
This can lead to problems with regulating behaviour and emotions, including a decreased level of empathy, as well as increased levels of frustration – contributing to arrested social development.
As Michelle says, the developmental impact of too much screen time can ‘hinder opportunities for understanding and conceptualising as adults,’ making it more difficult to form meaningful relationships as children mature.
Too Much Screen Time Symptoms
There are some physical indicators that may indicate your child or young person has been spending too much time in front of a screen.
Symptoms of too much screen time include:
- Sore or dry eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Blurry vision
- Decreased cognitive function
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
In particular, overstimulation is one of the most common indicators of too much screen time. If your child is exhibiting aggression, unusual crying bouts, irritability, meltdowns or oppositional behaviour that all seem out of character – it’s possible that they’re overstimulated.
If you notice your young person displaying some of these symptoms, it might be time to think about their screen exposure.
Managing Screen Time
It can be difficult to set boundaries when it comes to electronics, as so much of our lives involve the use of them, and many parents and caregivers report feeling distressed or worried when it came to reducing screen time.
As Michelle explains, ‘focusing too much on one thing has a restricting capacity when it comes to child development.’ A broad range of experiences are essential for healthy brain development, which is why it’s important to find balance.
Some basic guidelines when it comes to managing screen time include:
- No screens during mealtimes. Screens can make children less mindful or conscious of eating, which might lead to a range of food-related challenges such as disordered eating, bingeing or even obesity.
- No screens in the bedroom. Preventing screens from being used in the bedroom will help to eliminate some of the sleep problems associated with screen usage, as well as ensuring that screen usage can be monitored.
- Make use of parental controls. Many screen devices come with that allow you to limit your child’s usage and the kind of content they can access online.
- Communicate openly. Be open and transparent about your expectations when it comes to technology usage. Set some clear boundaries and explain the reasons behind them. Consistency is also key when establishing a routine for screen usage.
- Provide alternative activities. Try to organise some other exciting activities to keep your child entertained – like crafts, painting, or scavenger hunts – that encourage them to engage with something other than screens.
Remember, not all screen usage is bad. There are many benefits to screen usage when it comes to parenting – such as educational content that helps children learn and grow, or social sites that keep them connected with their friends.
The important thing is to find balance. Part of this involves understanding the screen time recommendations for your child’s age and finding an agreement that works for both you and your child.
Looking for more information on how to promote healthy development in your child and keep them safe using screens? Take a look at our list of resources below!
- How Does Social Media Affect Teenagers, and is it Positive?
- Social Networking Sites Parents Should Know About
- How to Encourage Your Child to Read for Pleasure
- 8 Ways to Keep Children Active
- 5 Reasons Why Your Child Won’t Sleep At Night
At Compass, we work hard to provide our children and young people with everything they need for healthy, positive upbringing.
Our foster carers benefit from an extensive array of training, including how to promote child development and safeguard them online. Get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more about fostering with Compass.
Getting enough sleep is essential for child development – it plays a crucial role in maintaining your child’s mental and physical health, directly effecting their mood, cognitive function, learning, memory and much more.
However, if you’re a parent or caregiver, you probably know that getting kids to go to sleep (and stay asleep) isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.
Lots of children and young people find it difficult to sleep at night. They might struggle to settle down or wake up at various points in the night – disrupting not only their sleep, but yours too! Children who are short on sleep are also more prone to hyperactivity, irritability and emotional dysregulation, impacting their day-to-day life both at home and in school.
If you’re finding yourself wondering, ‘is there a reason why my child doesn’t sleep?’ – you’re not alone. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some of the possible underlying causes to help you identify the reason behind your child’s sleepless nights.
Their Basic Needs Aren’t Met
As simple as it sounds, making sure your child’s basic needs are met can play an important role in ensuring they rest soundly.
Things like needing the toilet or being thirsty can prevent your child from falling asleep easily. These unmet needs also risk waking them up at night, disrupting their sleep cycle and making falling back asleep again more challenging. This can apply for both younger and older children – all of whose sleep cycles can easily be disrupted if they have unmet needs.
To avoid this happening, try to make sure their needs are fully met before they go to sleep. One way of doing this is by incorporating it into their bedtime routine, like having a nightly ‘check-in’ with your child as they are getting ready for bed. During this ‘check-in’, you can ask them if they need the toilet, some water, or anything else that might help them in the night.
They Don’t Have Good Sleep Hygiene
Many people say ‘my child won’t sleep!’, without realising how important maintaining good sleep hygiene is in helping children fall asleep.
Sleep hygiene refers to the lead-up and routine around your child’s bedtime. This means the various steps you and your child take to get them ready for bed – like brushing their teeth, getting into their pyjamas, and being read a bedtime story.
Having good hygiene is essential for helping children fall asleep and stay asleep. However, when children have an inconsistent or poor bedtime routine, this can quicky cause issues.
Good sleep hygiene means:
- Having the same bedtime each night
- Having a predictable, calming bedtime routine
- Limiting the use of technology before bed
- Limiting heavy food intake at least 2 hours before bedtime
- Avoiding taking too many naps during the day
- Avoiding caffeine and sugar consumption in the late afternoon and evening
- Avoiding any exciting or over-stimulating activities before bed – like pillow fights.
- Engaging in calming, quiet, relaxing activities before bed – like a warm bath or reading.
Children should also be encouraged to only use their bed for sleeping. Lying in bed during the day or doing other activities in bed can make it difficult for the brain to associate the bed with sleep, making it harder to fall asleep at bedtime. This also means you should avoid using the bedroom as a place for punishment, like ‘time-outs’, as this can discourage children from viewing the bedroom as a good place to be.
Similarly, if your child is struggling to sleep and is tossing and turning in the bed, it’s often better for them to get out of bed for a while. While this might seem counterproductive, tossing and turning in bed can encourage the brain to associate the bed with sleeplessness.
Instead, have your child get out of bed and do something calming and not too stimulating – like reading a boring book, or counting sheep. Once they feel sleepy again, they can return to bed.
Their Sleep Environment is Being Disrupted
We all know how difficult it can be to fall asleep in the wrong conditions. Your child’s sleeping environment should be a place where they feel safe and calm. If your child’s bedroom doesn’t have the right environment, they may have trouble falling asleep.
There are a few things to consider when it comes to assessing your child’s sleep environment:
- Light. Is it too dark, or too light? Some children prefer sleeping in total darkness. Darkness can help the production of melatonin (an essential sleep hormone), which is why your child may sleep better with blackout blind. On the other hand, some children may have be afraid of the dark, and need the aid of a nightlight or stuffed animal to help make them feel safe.
- Noise. The wrong kind of noise – such as noise from a TV, or street noise – can easily disrupt sleep, keeping your child up or waking them throughout the night. Limit the amount of noise in your child’s bedroom by installing soundproofing curtains or playing white-noise or calming music to help them fall asleep.
- Temperature. Surprisingly, temperature is one of the most important factors affecting sleep. A sleep environment that is too hot or too cold can cause increased restlessness and wakefulness in children, decreasing REM sleep and causing a myriad of issues. Your child’s bedroom should be cool (approximately 18°C) to ensure they can get a good nights sleep.
There is a Psychological Cause
Sleep is closely connected with mental health. If you feel you’re doing all of the things listed above, but your child is still experiencing restless nights – there may be an underlying psychological issue.
Most children will likely experience psychological sleep disturbances – such as stress, anxiety, separation anxiety , fear of the dark, or nightmares – at some point in their life. These psychological issues can be caused by many things, including stress, attachment issues, trauma, changes in routine – or even just an over-active imagination.
Mindfulness activities like yoga or meditation can help children unwind and clear their mind before bed, as well as encouraging children to talk openly about their feelings.
However, while some children may grow out of things like nightmares, there are other psychological issues that may continue to disrupt their rest if not treated properly. If you suspect your child is suffering from a psychological issue that is causing them distress and impacting their wellbeing, it’s important you seek professional guidance as soon as possible.
As well as speaking to a GP, you can get guidance from one of these services:
- Samaritans: call 116 123 (open 24 hours a day), email [email protected], or check your local Samaritans branch
- MIND: call 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 (weekdays from 9am-6pm)
- YoungMinds Parents Helpline – call 0808 802 5544 (weekdays 9:30am-4pm)
They Have a Health Issue
Sometimes, health issues like snoring or sleep apnoea can prevent children from falling or staying asleep. Although snoring is most common in older adults, many children are known to snore too.
Snoring is generally quite easy to recognise, due to the snorting or rattling sound that is made when some people are asleep. Snoring can be caused by a range of reasons, from seasonal allergies, to colds, to a deviated septum.
Light, occasional snoring should not raise any health concerns. However, if your child’s snoring is affecting their sleep, they may be suffering from primary snoring – the first stage of disordered breathing that can interrupt sleep quality, without posing any serious medical consequences.
If your child snores loudly, has start-and-stop breathing and is restless at night, there’s a chance they may be experiencing a condition called sleep apnoea. This occurs when the airways are blocked by enlarged tonsils and/or nasal tissues, and often requires medical intervention.
If you suspect your child is suffering from a health condition that is disrupting their sleep, its important you seek professional guidance from your GP – they will be able to advise you on the next steps to take, including treatment.
Supporting a child with sleep problems can be hard work and requires a lot of patience. Fortunately, many children grow out of most sleep-related issues as they age. By the time they’re teenagers, you’ll find yourself wondering – can my teenager ever get enough sleep?
Unfortunately, there are still thousands of children in the UK without a safe, secure place to sleep at night. If you think you could provide a child or young person with a loving place to grow up, get in touch with us to find out more about becoming a foster carer.
Parents and caregivers around the country are familiar with the struggle of finding something entertaining for the kids to do that doesn’t break the bank.
A day out with the family can be expensive; from admission fees, to ticket prices, to keeping hungry tummies filled, the costs can quickly pile up. That, and with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis – it’s natural for families to want to keep expenses down!
Fortunately, there are plenty of things to do with kids in Birmingham. Once a Saxon village, Birmingham is now the second largest city in England! With its rich history and diverse cultural background, families are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding fun things to do in Birmingham.
So, if you’re wondering what to do for free in Birmingham, look no further! We’ve put together a list of the top 5 fun and free things to do in Birmingham. These activities are easy on the wallet and guaranteed to be a good time for all the family!
Expand Your Mind at Birmingham Open Media (BOM)
Founded in 2014, this innovative art gallery uses creative technology to provide visitors with exciting and thought-provoking digital experiences. A unique day out, BOM is perfect for families who are looking for fun things to do in Birmingham.
Based in central Birmingham, BOM run a range of free exhibitions, events, community workshops and educational programmes – all aimed at exploring the connection between technology and our day-to-day lives.
Their recent exhibitions have included futuristic virtual reality sculptures, colourful digital projections, and an immersive dreamscape experience.
Walk Through History at Himley Hall and Park
Standing tall against 180 acres of landscaped parkland, this stunning 18th Century building is a shining example of Birmingham’s historical background.
Once a family home to the Earls of Dudley, Himley Hall and Park is now open to visitors looking to explore its grounds – for free! From open greenery to dense woodland, the grounds are perfect for a spot of exploring on a sunny day. Himley Hall and Park also frequently hosts a range of outdoor events that families can enjoy together. These include antiques fairs, live music, food festivals, and much more.
If you’re feeling peckish after a day of exploring , Himley Hall also has a café located within its grounds, offering up a range of refreshments including hot and cold drinks, crisps and a selection of sweet treats.
Explore Birmingham’s Canals
Did you know that Birmingham has more canals than Venice? Birmingham’s canal network is one of the most intricate canal networks in the world, spanning over 100 miles in total. Pack a picnic, its time for an adventure!
For those wondering what to do in Birmingham for free, we recommend taking a day to wander the historical canals and learn more about Birmingham’s unique industrial history.
Built in the 1700s and 1800s, the canals were once primarily used for the transportation of coal and other industrial materials to nearby cities. Nowadays, however, the canals are mostly used for leisure activities.
Now, they’re populated with colourful narrowboats and a range of local wildlife, including ducks and geese. Their walkways are also bordered with a range of independent restaurants and cafes – meaning you’re never too far from a coffee or tasty snack.
Visit Sutton Park’s Donkey Sanctuary
Like Himley Hall and Park, Sutton Park is ideal for adventurous families looking for free things to do in Birmingham. This impressive 2,400-acre National Nature Reserve is only 6 miles from Birmingham City Centre and combines history, adventuring and animals all in one!
Alongside its vast open landscape and its seven lakes, Sutton Park also has its very own Donkey Sanctuary. Open to the public every Saturday and the first Sunday of each month, Sutton Park’s Donkey Sanctuary is home to Shocks, Cisco, Oscar and Jimmy – their resident rescue donkeys. The donkeys at Sutton Park love visitors, and enjoy spending their days grazing and laying around the sun.
Entry is free, but entry tickets need to be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.
Get Thinking at The Science Garden
Dig out the lab coats – it’s time for some science! Thinktank’s outdoor Science Garden is full of exciting activities that will keep children of all ages entertained.
Their outdoor activities include over 30 hands-on exhibits that focus on themes of engineering, mechanics, and transportation. Visitors of all ages are invited to get involved. Why not have a go on their with their eight-metre high ‘Terminus’ machine, or take a stroll in their human-sized hamster wheel? A visit to the Science Garden will inspire and entertain, all while teaching your children valuable knowledge about machinery and its place in the modern world.
The Science Garden is free to enter every day from 3pm, however closing times will vary as winter draws on due to light levels.
These family things to do in Birmingham are sure to keep the whole family entertained – without placing too much strain on the wallet! If you’re looking for some more cost-free family activities, why not check out our list of 10 Free Activities that Are Fun for The Whole Family?
Unfortunately, there are still thousands of children living in Birmingham, and throughout the UK, who would benefit from the safety and security that foster care provides.
If you think you could make a difference to the life of a child living in Birmingham, find out more about fostering in Birmingham with Compass Fostering. Or, get in touch with us to speak to a member of our team today.
From its fascinating Industrial history to its sprawling countryside, there’s plenty to do and see in Wolverhampton.
Wolverhampton is incredibly well connected to other nearby spots in the West Midlands, making travelling a breeze for those looking for activities to do in Wolverhampton. Just minutes away from stunning country parks, historical manors and award-winning museums, families are left with plenty of choice.
Read on to find out some of the best family friendly activities in Wolverhampton.
Perfect for a sunny day, Wightwick Manor and Gardens allows visitors to take a peek at life in the late 19th Century. Owned and preserved by the National Trust, Wightwick Manor and its surrounding gardens make a great day out, stoking the children’s imagination, with plenty of opportunities to learn and play.
As well as guided and self-guided walking tours, the Wightwick Manor regularly host a variety of events, from summer holiday family activities, to fascinating historical talks.
Located just outside Wolverhampton and accessible by train, this award-winning open-air museum is a must-see for history buffs, Peaky Blinder’s fans and everyone in between!
Set across 26 acres, visitors have the chance to explore a wealth of ‘carefully reconstructed shops, houses and industrial areas’ that represent the history of Black Country. Registered as an Educational Charity, Black Country Living Museum also offer various events, including activities for children in Wolverhampton.
For those looking for a walk – or swing – on the wild side, Challenge Academy is the place to go! This outdoor activity centre offers various courses for all ages and abilities, providing a range of adventure experiences that meet the needs of all their clients.
Just a 20-minute drive from Wolverhampton, their Baggeride Adventure site boasts plenty of exciting challenges. From a high ropes course to zip wires, to bouldering and much more, Challenge Academy will test your limits and find out if you really are #upforthechallenge.
An idyllic spot with a host of wildlife and peaceful views, Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve is one of many nature reserves located in Wolverhampton and the surrounding countryside.
Over 60 acres large and described by visitors as a ‘hidden gem’, Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve is ideal for families looking to spend the day reconnecting with local nature and exploring everything it has to offer. Pack a pinic and strap on your walking boots for a fun-filled day in nature.
Located in the neighbouring town of Dudley, Dudley Zoo and Castle is open every day from 10am – 5:30pm. Filled with exotic animals from around the world and based in the grounds of a historic Castle dating back to 1070, Dudley Zoo and Castle has something for everyone.
Great for those looking for fun activities in Wolverhampton, at Dudley Zoo and Castle, there is lots to do. As well as general admission, the park offers unique experience packages that allow visitors to get up close and personal with some of the Zoo’s fluffiest, scariest and scaliest animals. They also have a range of talks that run throughout the day, and plenty of eateries dotted throughout the park – perfect for filling hungry tummies.
A stunning Elizabethan era house, and just a 15-minute drive from Wolverhampton city centre, Moseley Old Hall is yet another example of Wolverhampton’s rich history.
Inside, the house is furnished just as it would have been in the 17th Century, with the ground floor Hall open on a ‘free flow’ basis from 10:30am until 4:30pm. Visitors have the option of joining a guided tour whilst there, which describes the story of Moseley Old Hall and its curious connection to King Charles II. The site also has a tearoom, bookshop and gardens that are perfect for those looking for a relaxed day out with the family.
Favoured by local families, Northycote Farm is one of the best free activities in Wolverhampton. Like Dudley Zoo and Castle, this day out combines animal-fun with a slice of history.
Free to enter and located on the grounds of a 16th-century Tudor House, Northycote Farm boasts 90 acres of stunning scenery, woodland, and meadowland. The farm is home to chickens, geese, ducks, pigs, sheep and a variety of wildlife that roam the surrounding countryside. There are also Tearooms on site, serving up a range of hot and cold drinks, cakes and locally made breakfasts and lunches.
Get ready for take-off – this is another great free family activity in Wolverhampton, the Royal Airforce Museum! Open daily from 10am, this award-winning museum is jammed full with aircraft and aviation and Airforce themed memorabilia.
Their multiple hangars encase various exhibits, ranging from the Cold War to the invention of the very first aeroplane. With life-sized models, real-life planes and interactive displays – such as their flight simulator or Virtual Reality Zone – the Royal Air force Museum is sure to keep the whole family entertained. Entry is also free!
With so much to see and do in Wolverhampton, families will be spoilt for choice! However, if you’re looking for entertainment that is easy on the wallet, why not check out our list of 10 Free Activities for Children – we’re sure you’ll find something the kids will love.
There are still many children living in Wolverhampton, and throughout the UK, who would benefit from the safety and security of foster care. If you think you could make a difference to the life of a vulnerable child, find out more about fostering in Wolverhampton with Compass Fostering, or get in touch with us to speak to a member of our team today.