Education | Social Policy

Give Australia’s out-of-home care young people a better education

2 May 2014, by test test

Brian Smyth King, Executive Director of Learning and Engagement from NSW Department of Education and Communities
Brian Smyth King, Executive Director of Learning and Engagement, NSW Department of Education and Communities

Young people in disadvantaged circumstances often have poorer education outcomes than the general population.  Every year, at least 100,000 children and young Australians access homelessness services (AIHW, 2012).  Indisputably, this would have an impact on their education and their future.

Brian Smyth King, Executive Director of Learning and Engagement from NSW Department of Education and Communities joined us recently.  He shared with us his view on the importance of permanency and stability in a child’s life and how it can affect their education outcome.

Research on children in out-of-home care and education shows that education should be a priority for child protection and education professionals. What are some of the educational outcomes for children in out-of-home care?

Brian: We know there are barriers and difficulties for children and young people in care, often related to their individual circumstances and their experiences before they entered care. Research shows that in general children and young people in care have poorer education outcomes than the general population. The NSW Department of Education and Communities is working hard to reduce the gap in educational outcomes for students in out-of-home care.

Since 2010, all students new to care in NSW government schools are required to have education planning within 30 days of entering care. This planning identifies the student’s strengths and also puts in place strategies to support identified areas of need in education. There are processes in place for a student who has significant changes in their circumstances and also for when the student has changed schools. The student is a very important participant in this process wherever possible and appropriate.

Tony Vinson wrote in SMH late 2013 that “Throughout my 50 years of working in and around prisons and involvement in disadvantaged communities and education, time and time again it has been evident that ensuring that children have the opportunity to prosper educationally is a moral obligation on society”. How can education help shaping the future of children in disadvantaged environment?

Brian: Governments have made the connection between levels of participation in education and the lifelong outcomes for children and young people. There are many initiatives in NSW that support engagement in education of students from disadvantaged communities.

The school leaving age has been raised with opportunities for tailored programs of work, training and education built in. Schools are working in new ways to engage senior students.

School attendance is important, especially in the early years of schooling to develop patterns of engagement and participation. ‘Educational neglect’ in NSW is recognised as a child protection risk and it is acknowledged that educational neglect usually coexists with other neglect factors in families.

Schools as Community Centres (SaCC) is a project that supports families with children aged birth to eight years in communities experiencing marked challenges of disadvantage.  SaCC projects work in partnership with key stakeholders to engage and support families raising young children.  The core outcomes of the SaCC program are increased supportive connections; increased use of health and community services, resources and activities; and increased social, emotional and communication skills for school preparedness.

The number of children in out-of-home care has risen every year over the last 10 years (AIHW, 2013). What educational challenges do these rising numbers present?

Brian: The educational challenges we face when engaging the rising number of students who are in care can be addressed with careful, collaborative planning and ensuring coordination of service to affect our collective impact. We know the importance of involving carers, caseworkers and the student in this process. This can be challenging where the carers, caseworkers and school personnel change in response to the student’s circumstances.

The Department recognises the learning and support needs of all students, including those in care. Students in out-of-home care can arrive at school often with a different life experience to their classmates and with the long term impact of trauma challenging their ability to engage with school life.  Specialist out-of-home-care personnel with expertise in trauma informed practice are available to work with school staff to develop strategies for working with students in out-of-home care and to gain an understanding of the effects of trauma on behaviour and learning. Through an understanding of trauma informed practice, teachers not only gain skills in the way they work with students in care, but also any students who may have experienced trauma.

In your past research, you expressed that “the early years of life are critical in the development and future wellbeing of the child”. What can we do to help making a child’s early education experience more stable?

Brian: While the Department of Education and Communities may not have any part in deciding where a student is placed when they enter the care system, continuity of education and the existing links that the child or young person has with the school, peers and teachers is an important consideration.  We support the student to remain at their school wherever possible to allow for some life consistency.  When this is not feasible, our department has processes in place for transferring information between schools so that the new placement is as seamless as possible.  This informs the education planning process, which has key roles and responsibilities for education staff, carers and caseworkers and the student.

Brian will be presenting a short workshop on “The impact a lack of permanency and stability can have on a child’s education” at the 2nd annual Out-of-Home Care Summit, taking place on the 23rd and 24th June, at the Pullman Sydney, Hyde Park.  For more information about the event program and to register, please visit the Out-of-Home Care Summit website.

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