Academic achievement acts as a strong protective factor for well-being and social integration in childhood and later life. However, for many of the 80,000 children currently in care, this may seem out of reach.
children Art Care to have Lower education The results
Indeed, evidence shows that, on average, children in foster care perform significantly worse in education than their peers who have not experienced care throughout childhood and beyond (Berridge et al., 2020; Viner & Taylor, 2005). Many children in care grow up with parents who have mental health or substance misuse problems, often living in chronic poverty (DfE, 2019). Not surprisingly, development and school readiness are delayed by early childhood adversity, neglect, and maltreatment, and for many, disruptive journeys through foster care compound children’s educational challenges (Harden & Whittaker, 2011).
These challenges are reflected in data on educational outcomes at ages 11 and 16 and beyond. For example, in 2021, looked after children scored less than half the KS4 (age 16) exam scores of their peers in the general population (DfE, 2021). Therefore, the task of supporting the education of children under care is urgent.
Exceptions to in The rule
This experience, however, is not universal. Some children in care find refuge in their studies and the school day. Some children talk about being like everyone else in a large peer group with their own concerns about school, friendships and family.
Some children in care also do well in school; because they are studious and determined, because they are stable, or because they have significant support, usually from a trusted adult. Many of them have brilliant careers, such as the poet Lemn Sisay, the actress Samantha Morton or the current Lord Mayor of Manchester, Donna Ludford. Academic success should not be out of reach for any child; so how do we support those who face many challenges and obstacles to success?
Interventions Purposeful in in Caretaker
A systematic review of protective factors for looked after children’s learning identified carers’ attitudes, aspirations and support for children’s education as strong protective factors for looked after children (O’Higgins et al., 2017). This suggests that interventions should target caregivers, yet reviews of the impact of educational interventions have found few such programs (Evans et al., 2017).
Against this meager evidence, in 2019, What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) re-analyzed data from the National Student Database and the Education Foundation’s randomized controlled trials of educational interventions (Sanders et al., 2020). These analyses studied the effects of educational interventions on a subset of children with a social worker included in these trials.
The findings highlighted ten interventions that showed signs of potential. These interventions appeared to be a good option for improving the educational outcomes of children with a social worker. In addition, interventions targeting parents and caregivers appear particularly promising from our analysis. WWCSC continued to fund the implementation of four of these interventions for children with the assistance of a social worker and an independent evaluation, with results expected in early 2023.
There is no easy task
But supporting children in care in their studies is not an easy task. In addition to knowledge gaps, many children also have psychosocial or behavioral problems and special educational needs that need to be addressed so that children are ready for school and able to engage in learning. Children in care also exist in a complex bureaucratic web that gives them various rights and entitlements, including financial and practical ones.
They are entitled to an increased Pupil Premium fund and receive support from their local authority’s Virtual School (the children’s education support team with a social worker). Carers need up-to-date knowledge and expert skills to navigate this system, advocate for the best interests of the children in their care and ensure they receive all the support they are entitled to.
When carers and children are well supported with interventions that address their multiple needs, children in care will be in a better position to succeed and become the next great poet, actor or politician.
Local authorities should provide effective training to help carers support the learning of children in their care.
Local authorities should develop new comprehensive measures aimed at the low level of education of children in care.
The DfE and local authorities should carry out robust impact evaluations of new interventions to expand the evidence base and toolkit to support children in care.
By Aoife O’Higgins, Director of Research, What Works for Children’s Social Care
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