Families of Sanctuary and SEND

For children of sanctuary the benefits of being in school are obvious, the positive opportunities that school spaces provide include, language learning and social interaction, both of which support the inclusion of that child into their local community. However, despite the understanding that within the UK, all children regardless of background, ability or migration status have the right to a government funded education, for families of sanctuary, accessing and navigating the education system can be complicated. Within the current research landscape, little is known about the experiences of the education system from the parent’s perspectives, especially those parents who have children with special educational needs (SEND).

The aim of this piece of research was to focus on the narratives of families of sanctuary living here in England who have a child with special educational needs and/ or a disability (SEND). It explored how they as parents have navigated the SEND system here in England, the support they have been shown, and their agency and voices regarding their lives and the lives of their children in the competing spaces they inhabit.

To explore the lived and relived experiences around SEND, a narrative inquiry was undertaken with eight families who have a child or children with SEND across England. However individual stories are complex, multi-layered, and contextually situated and as such episodic narrative interviews were utilised which supported the families by providing a boundary around significant periods in their lives regarding their child, the support given to the family, and their personal constructs around disability.

From the data collected four main themes were taken, these included homogenisation, connections, cultural barriers, and enculturation. The findings from the data found that despite a common rhetoric within the literature on vulnerability and need. The participants demonstrated awareness, understanding and agency. The tensions within their lives came from homogenised assumptions made by the professionals about such areas as language levels and competency. As professionals we need to rethink the approaches taken in supporting families of sanctuary. This research has demonstrated the importance of the voices of the participants and the multiple facets to their stories, their voices lie both as singular experiences, but also as part of those collective unifying experiences. Hearing those voices is essential, as both the lived and the relived experiences are an essential part in how we all move forwards