A long-term looked-after child is more likely to succeed in school than a child living with their family and receiving social work support, new research has found.
The study of the educational outcomes of children in care, carried out by the Rees Centre and University of Bristol, found that children in long-term foster or kinship care made better educational progress than children in need, and a child’s success is boosted by the length and stability of the placement.
Children in residential homes didn’t fare as well and this is linked to the level of placement change, the report said. Overall, the outcomes of children in care were still not as high as those in the general population.
“The earlier the young person enters foster or kinship care the better their progress, provided that they do not experience many short care periods interspersed with reunifications with their birth families or many placement and/or school changes,” the report said.
It added: “The findings suggest that care generally provides a protective factor, with early admission to care being associated with consistently better outcomes than those found in the other need groups.”
The research compared the academic scores of thousands of children at the end of primary school with their eventual GCSE results at age 16.
The first academic study of its kind, it found that foster care or kinship care can protect the education of children, and could be worth six higher GCSE grades compared to other children in care. Children who entered care early, and had remained in the same placement for 12 months or more, could achieve five higher GCSE grades than children in need.
Children whose final placement was in foster or kinship care did better at GCSEs than those in residential care or other types of placement, the research found.
Other key factors that may impact the child’s education were the number of school absences, the timing and number of care placements or school moves, and the type of school attended.
Josh Hillman, acting director and director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the research, said the research had delivered “clear agendas” for policy-makers, professionals and researchers.
Debbie Barnes, education lead for the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “The research will be an invaluable part of helping us to better understand the experiences of these vulnerable children and to make sure that both the education and care system is built to meet their individual needs.”
The report recommended that kinship carers get support for the financial pressures that can affect them and that children in need should be used as a more suitable comparison group for looked-after children in official statistics.
“The fact that there is a wide attainment gap between looked-after pupils and their peers is often used as a condemnation of social work services for children and families. Our evidence shows that compared with children in need who live at home, children in care make greater educational progress although their problems are likely to be more acute,” the report found.