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Thinking of children’s need developmentally

Many adopted and care experienced children have gaps in their development as a result of their in-utero and early life experiences. Rather than having s disorder, they may be functioning like much younger children in some ways. If we can understand this, we can meet them where they are and address their needs as we do for younger children

An example of developmental gaps is play. Play is developmental. Initially children’s plays is entirely self-directed; they explore the world and the adult gets alongside them and comments on their play, joining in as invited, A this early stage we do not expect children to play cooperatively or imaginatively or to join in games with complex rules. Many adopted and care experienced children have not fully learnt how to play, because in early development they missed our on the input that helps play to develop

  • Nurture
  • Stimulation
  • Language input
  • Safe spaces
  • Adults who are attuned

We can think about children’s needs using the framework of child development and the ages and stages of typical development. (See diagram below)

Child Development Chart – First Five Years

6 m
Social Smile

Distinguishes mother/ main caregiver from other
Reacts to sight of bottle or breast

Comforts self with thumb or pacifier
Lifts head and chest when lying on stomach

Turns around when lying on stomach
Looks at and reaches for faces and toys

Picks up toy with one hand
Reacts to voices - Vocalises coos, chuckles

Vocalisis spontaneously - social
9 mPushes things away he/she
doesn't like
Rolls over from back to stomach

Sits alone steady without support
Transfers toy from one hand to another

Picks up object with thumb and finger grasps
Responds to name - turns and looks

Wide range of vocalisations (vowel sounds, consonant- vowel combination?
12 mPlays social games, peek a boo, bye bye

Plays patty cake
Picks up a spoon by handleCrawls around on hands and knees

Walks around furniture or crib without holding on
Picks up small objects - precise thumb and finger graspsWord sounds - says Ma-Ma or Da-Da

Understands words like “No”, “Stop”, or “All gone”
18 mWants stuffed animal or blanket in bed

Gives kisses or hugs

Greats people with “hi” or similar
Lifts cup to mouth and drinks

Feeds self with spoon

Insists on doing things by self such as feeding
Stands without support

Walks without help

Stacks two or more blocks

Picks up two small toys in one hand

Scribbles with crayon
Uses one or two words as name of things or actions

Talks in a single word

Asks for food or drink with words
2 ySometimes says “No” when interfered with

Shows sympathy to other children - tries to comfort them

Usually responds to corrections - stops
Eats with fork

Eats with spoon, spilling little

Takes off open coat or shirt without help
Kicks a ball forward

Runs well, seldom falls

Walks up and down stairs alone
Builds towers of four or more blocks

Turns pages of picture books, one at a time
Follows simple instructions

Uses at least 10 words

Follows two part instructions
2.5 y

3 y
“Helps” with simple household tasks

Plays with other children - cars, dolls, building

Plays a role in “pretend” games - mum-dad, teacher, space pilot
Opens door by turning knob

Washes and dries hands

Dresses self with help
Climbs on play equipment, ladders, slides

Stands on one foot without support

Walks up and down stairs one foot per step
Scribbles with circular motion

Draws or copies vertical line

Cuts with small scissors
Talks in two-three word phrases or sentences

Talks clearly - is understandable most of the time

Understands four prepositions - in, on, under, beside
3.5 y

4 y
Gives direction to other children

Plays cooperatively with minimum conflict and supervision

Protective toward younger children
Toilet trained

Washes face without help

Dresses and undresses without help except for shoelaces
Rides around on a tricycle using pedals

Hops on one foot without support
Draws or copies a complete circle

Cuts across paper with small scissors
Combines sentences with the words “and” “or” or “but”

Identifies four colours correctly

Counts five or more objects when asked “How many”?

Understands concepts -size, number and shape
4.5 y

5 y
Follows simple rules in board or card games

Shows leadership among children
Buttons one or more buttons

Usually looks both ways before crossing road/street

Goes to the toilet without help
Skips or makes running “broad jumps”

Swings n swing, pumping by self
Draws recognisable pictures

Draws a person that as at least 3 parts (head, eyes, nose etc.)

Prints first name (four letters)
Follows a series of 3 simple instructions

Read a few letters (five+)

Tells meaning of familiar words

As part of information gathering, teachers and educational staff caring for the child may talk to parents about any experiences the child may have missed out on and how the child’s needs have or have not been met in the following areas:

Physical needs

  • Sleep, eating and drinking
  • Safety and protection from danger
  • Toileting
  • Supervision
  • Pain and illnesses attended to
  • Exposure to alcohol and drugs

Emotional needs

  • Love and other positive feelings displayed towards the child
  • Corrective feedback given gently
  • Help with managing feelings
  • Modelling of having and managing emotions

Socialisation needs

  • Interacting with adults
  • Supervision and boundaries
  • Opportunities to interact appropriately with other children
  • Modelling of social skills

Language needs

  • Being spoken to
  • Being responded to
  • Being listened to
  • Being read to

Cognitive needs

  • Learning to play
  • Stimulation
  • Interaction
  • Scaffolding
  • Challenge

For many adopted and care experience children the details of their early lives are not fully known. We are often hypothesising, working backwards from the child current difficulties. You can map your hypotheses about what was present and what was absent for the child. This approach will help support you in understanding what is needed. For example, if the building blocks of play or socialisation or cognition are missing then we need to fill these in by providing the opportunities we would offer to younger children.

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The BRIGHTER FUTURE project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.