While some children and young people in out-of-home care (OOHC) can do very well at school, research shows that many are at a greatly increased risk of poor educational outcomes.
There is a growing recognition that foster carers have a key role to play in supporting the education of the children in their care and this has a significant impact on raising aspirations and improving educational attainment.
Anglicare Tasmania’s Social Action and Research Centre (SARC) conducted research during 2016 about Tasmanian foster care and educational support.
Foster carers know how children and young people are faring in the education system and what works well for them and what doesn’t. Their expertise was therefore vital in providing information about the role of foster carers in supporting education. They were also able to provide valuable information on how best they can be assisted to support the educational outcomes of the children in their care.
Anglicare’s research report Fostering education: Supporting foster carers to help children and young people learn, was released in Hobart on 28 November 2016.
“As Tasmania is currently in the midst of a significant reform of its OOHC and child protection systems this research is timely,” said Anglicare’s CEO, Chris Jones.
“An evidence base about carers’ experiences in this area and how best to support them in this important task we hope will contribute to the reform process.
“We were committed to this research because we believe there is an opportunity now in Tasmania to make a positive difference, that this is a good time to give a voice to the particular concerns that come from young people and their foster carers,” said Chris.
There are currently 1061 children and young people living in OOHC in Tasmania with 435 living in over 200 foster care households (AIHW 2016).
Using data collated from 113 foster carers, eight young people and other stakeholders such as teachers, child protection workers, psychologists, occupational therapists and OOHC provider agencies, the research explores what has helped or hindered foster carers in their role of working with the education system to improve educational outcomes.
We know that students in OOHC in all jurisdictions, including Tasmania, run a higher risk of poorer educational outcomes than their peers. The most recent publicly available figures for Tasmania show that a greater percentage of students in OOHC are below National Minimum Standards compared with other students (DoE 2011).
“Children and young people in the OOHC system deserve a great education, and it’s our responsibility to deliver it to them,” said Meg Webb, Director of Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre (SARC).
“The commitment and the passion of the foster carers in our system is enormous even though they face many obstacles,” said Meg.
“While there is some really great work being done with some wonderful success, some excellent collaboration, and some really effective investment being made, it happens in patchy ways that are not regular and consistent across the State.
“Every obstacle identified in this report is an opportunity for us as a State, and as collaborators in good outcomes, to do better.
“There is a moral imperative to make the educational progress of children and young people in the OOHC system a whole-of-government priority. However, it’s not just the government’s responsibility, all stakeholders have a role to play.
“There needs to be additional resourcing for educational support for children and young people in the OOHC system; and we must fully acknowledge the role of foster carers in improving education and learning, and to support them better to perform their role,” said Meg.
At the research launch, two young people who had participated in the study shared their views.
“Education plans are a very important tool for young people because they help a young person to plan out their education and they help carers and teachers to figure out how to help them in class and at home,” said Liam*, a student in OOHC.
“It’s really important for young people’s learning to be supported at home and outside of school because without good support they won’t have the motivation to do the work, and this will impact their learning which will in turn impact their career goals in life,” said Liam.
“What really helped me learn both at school and at home was the extra tutoring I received to help me catch up in some classes, as well as my carer who has helped me every day since I came into her care with assignments and homework,” said Liam.
“I wanted to be involved in this consultation because I know that the education of children and young people in care or with a care experience can be much improved,” said Samantha*, a student in OOHC.
“It’s really important for the school, child protection and the carer to communicate well and include the young person in these discussions if possible,” said Samantha.
The report has eighteen key recommendations. “In the broadest of terms we need to strengthen already existing collaborative mechanisms; develop additional mechanisms and resourcing to support students in OOHC; and provide better support to foster carers so they can support the education of children and young people in their care,” said the report’s author Teresa Hinton, Senior Research and Policy Officer for SARC.
Children’s Commissioner Mark Morrissey attended the launch commending Anglicare on its fabulous research and reminding us all “there is nothing more important than giving a young person a start to life where they can go on and get a good education.
“We owe it to our community to foster these young people because they bring a richness to the conversation that we who haven’t been through the OOHC system could never bring,” said Mark.
* The names of the young people have been changed to protect their privacy.