Care not damaging to children’s education, research finds

A review carried out at Oxford University suggests that being in care does not directly affect children's educational attainment

Photo: Burger/Phanie/REX

Being in care does not damage a child’s education, new research has found.

A literature review, published today and carried out by the Rees Centre at Oxford University, found that, on average, being in foster or kinship care does not appear to be damaging to children’s education, and called on authorities to focus efforts on providing services that enable these children to thrive.

Although children in care do lag behind in educational attainment compared with those in the general population, being in care may not itself be the reason for this, the review of 28 studies (three from the UK but the majority from the US) found. The study only examined research focused on children in kinship or foster care.

Pre-care experiences

Instead, it said low educational outcomes could be “partly explained by pre-care experiences, such as maltreatment and neglect”. The difficulties that children face before care may also continue when they are in care, the review said.

“The strength of the relationship between being in care and educational outcomes is reduced when other individual characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and special educational needs, known to be linked to attainment, are taken into consideration,” the review found.

It concluded: “There is a correlation between being in care and educational outcomes, but this relationship is mediated by a number of individual, family and environmental risk factors. Although the evidence is mixed, there was little support for the claim that being in foster or kinship care per se is detrimental to the educational outcomes of children in care.”

A study from Scotland, which compared the attainment of 1,407 children in care aged over 15 with that of children not in care but in contact with social services, found that those in care “had better educational outcomes”, the review said.

Don’t blame the care system

Aoife O’Higgins, lead author of the research, said that the evidence available showed care wasn’t as damaging as some people perceived.

“We shouldn’t see care as something bad, and we shouldn’t be blaming the care system for poor outcomes for children. I think there are a lot of people in the system working very hard to improve outcomes for young people. But we still have a way to go,” she said.

The report did say that children in care do not appear to benefit academically – the Scotland study was one of only two reviewed that found them exceeding the attainment of those out of care – and “this should be a concern for researchers, practitioners and policy makers”.

O’Higgins added: “Saying the care system is bad doesn’t work… Overall, the care system on its own isn’t bad, but more needs to be done for these young people to actually raise their attainment.”

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8 Responses to Care not damaging to children’s education, research finds

  1. Lynne Brosnan September 16, 2015 at 11:28 am #

    A very good report. All children need to be encouraged and praised. I think there is a link between academic achievement and achievement in the work place and those obstacles should be the focus. Maybe the staying put policy will help strengthen educational attainment.

  2. Andy West September 16, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    Well, well someone has finally said it. Anyone with an ounce of common sense and experience in social care would have known it. Childrens’ educational achievements are affected long before they come into care. I have a vague memory of there having been other research in the past that indicated the same kind of thing. It has always seemed evident to me that social care was too apologetic about the educational achievements of those in care and allowed those with an axe to grind or another agenda to dictate the discussion and denigrate those who choose to spend their lives helping others. I have always thought that children in care’s educational achievements were significantly affected by their pre-care experiences and that it is convenient to blame care agencies and workers.

    On another track when will the leaders in social care develop some political nouse with reference to the issue of the sexual exploitation of young people and talk about how difficult it is working with young people who again have been tragically affected by their experiences prior to social care’s involvement. Yet again here it has been expedient for politicians to throw up their hands and get out their “blame game” agendas. There are too many within social care who are taken in by this and get into blaming their colleagues or accepting that this inevitably has to be part of the “lot” of a social care professional .

  3. Donna September 16, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

    Hmmm, I find this article very interesting!
    I mentor and coach young people living in care and have experienced first hand the struggles they face within the educational system. Does anybody know where I can get a copy of these latest findings please?

  4. Joyce September 16, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

    At long last the research is being done, I’ve being saying for years that no one’s done the research as I as a Social Worker and Care Leaver was sure from my experiences that those young people known to social services outcome’s would be worst if not the same as those in care. Hopefully now the focus will be to raise the educational attainment of all young people affected by the circumstance of their birth.

  5. Betty September 16, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    I had 32 foster children and NONE of them were doing well in school and my custodial grand has finished 2 years of college and has plans to go back

  6. Anne ward September 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm #

    This is a literature review rather than a new piece of research. I am now retired, but remember many social workers being frustrated that Sonia Jackson’s research was used by some to blame social workers and teachers for having low expectations about Looked After Children’s attainments. The development of LAC Education Plans was one consequence of the way research was interpreted.

    The upside was that the findings stimulated debate within many authorities and led to better working together between Schools and Children’s services and more resources. Sadly some of LAC Education Plans were hugely bureaucratic and like so much in Children’s Services great emphasis was placed on process.

    The Review findings are a salutary reminder that comparing information about Looked After Children with national average attainments can be simplistic and focusing on specific groups of children (eg Michael Grove and Adoption ) and as Joyce comments, hinders policy makers addressing universal problems.

  7. Andrea September 19, 2015 at 8:37 am #

    Agree absolutely with Andy West and Anne Ward – politics, and comparing apples and pears. Response to research appears always to result in the creation of more processes in order to calm the baying public who demand “something must be done”, and those senior managers whose concerns are to appease local councillors, who understand little and are interested only in being re-elected.

  8. Lynne Brosnan September 30, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Andrea I think if you look again you will find the majority of Councillors want all children to succeed. To say they understand little is an unacceptable comment. Councillors have a responsibility and most take it seriously. Senior managers and Councillors should and do work together to provide the best outcome for the child. To say that senior managers only want to appease Councillors is unfair.
    Why do I say this you may ask, the answer, I am a foster carer and a Councillor and no my only interest is not being re-elected but to do the best I can in both roles.