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.
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.”