Promoting Academic Success of Children in Care

Promoting Academic Success of Children in Care Abstract Evidence from international studies shows that a significant number of adults who have been in state care are known to be living in adverse circumstances. Their unemployment rate is high as well as their rates of poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and criminal offending. A key factor contributing to these poor adult outcomes for children is lack of educational or vocational qualifications. There is evidence that a high number of children in care leave school early, with their failure to attain a tertiary qualification directly linked to this. This Australian study was designed to investigate the factors that contributed to the education of academically successful ex-care women with the intention that the findings might inform current practice to promote the educational achievement of children in care contexts. Eighteen ex-care Australian women with a university degree were interviewed, their educational journeys collected and the data analysed using a narrative methodology. What emerged was that a range of factors contributed to supporting the education of children and young people in care contexts. The foundational, or overarching, themes emerging from the data were ‘conducive environment’ and ‘personal factors’. Conducive environment included the sometimes interrelated themes of: valuing of education, social networks; practical and financial resources; and personal factors included resilience and motivating factors. These themes and their elements are discussed in light of current practice implications. Children and adolescents, education, looked after children Background and review of the literature This doctoral study on the lived experiences of eighteen Australian women graduates with an out-of-home care (OOHC) history investigated the factors contributing to educational success with the intent of identifying how the education of children in OOHC might be enhanced. OOHC included foster and residential care, with some participants experiencing both, but not kinship care. Results for both types of care had a high degree of commonality, so are not identified separately. Professional practitioners working in child protection and related services, both in Australia and overseas, have been concerned for many years about the conditions that undermine educational achievements of children in care. Historically, children in care were ‘trained’ for unskilled jobs along gendered lines (Van Krieken, 1991), which is less evident in the current context. However, the educational disadvantages of this group have continued, as evidenced by high rates of unemployment together with poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and criminal offences (McDowall, 2011, 2013; Moslehuddin, 2012). A key factor contributing to these poor adult outcomes is the lack of educational or vocational attainment linked, in turn, to early school leaving (Carter, 2002; Berridge and Saunders, 2009; McDowall, 2009, 2011). There is evidence that large numbers of children in care leave school before completing secondary education (Daly and Gilligan, 2010; Berridge, 2012) and their educational attainment generally lags behind their school peers (Jackson et al., 2005; Flynn et al., 2010; O’Higgins et al., 2015). Contributing factors include lack of nurturing—the consistent display by parents of loving, warm and accepting behaviour towards children—which research connects to children’s achievements at school (Perkins-Mangulabnan and Flynn, 2006; O’Higgins et al., 2015). Research suggests that parenting is the most important factor associated with educational attainment at age ten, which, in turn, is strongly associated with achievement later in life. Indeed, parental involvement in education seems more important than poverty, school environment and the influence of peers (HM Government, 2005, in Lonne et al., 2009, p. 49). Thus it is common for the education of children in care to have been seriously affected before they come to the attention of authorities. Events requiring the removal of children from family frequently have debilitating impacts on children’s education and, after entering care, they face further issues that may negatively affect their education. Such further disruptions to education may arise as a result of procedures and practices associated with child welfare systems (Smith and McLean, 2013; Mendes et al., 2014). Research as well as practice wisdom suggests that, in many instances, children are placed with strangers, increasing their emotional vulnerability and diminishing their chances of engaging productively in schoolwork (Porges, 2015; Hughes, 2015). This was supported by participants in this study as well as the view that children are commonly placed in short-term emergency accommodation first, followed by a number of placement changes until a suitable placement meeting their needs is found. Often these moves from one placement to another are accompanied by school changes, further interrupting their education. Some programmes (e.g. Looking After Children) and more enlightened policies (e.g. After Care Support) have been developed both in Australia and internationally, although Australia has been slow to initiate policies supporting the education of children in care compared to Canada, the UK and the USA (Jackson et al., 2005). Looking After Children is a framework that fosters resilience in children in care through partnerships which pays specific attention to developmental needs including education (Wise, 2008). A UK development, it is now used internationally, including in Australia. After Care Support is a general term for the programmes now in place internationally, and in Australia, to support those leaving care particularly during the transition to independence (Department of Human Services, 2015). What exactly this means varies from country to country and, in Australia, from state to state, but might include, for example, support for tertiary study. However, children in care, as a group, still lack specific assistance to compensate for the disadvantages they experience and the impacts on their schooling. Existing studies indicate these children continue to be disadvantaged in numerous ways which include lack of support networks and engagement with professionally trained people who could offer support combined with high expectations for educational outcomes. This disadvantage is often associated with social isolation and lack of self-esteem (Carter, 2002; CREATE Foundation, 2006; Jackson and Simon, 2006; Owusu-Bempah, 2010). Over time, they fall further behind, finding it harder to catch up to the required standard. Leaving school becomes an attractive option—often unplanned, without a career pathway or framework for further education, such as an apprenticeship or vocational training, and with few or no qualifications (Jackson and Simon, 2006; Stein and Munro, 2008; Testa, 2008). In addition, many young people in care assume independent living at sixteen years of age in the UK (Courtney, 2008), Australia (Mendes et al., 2011) and the USA (Stein, 2006a, 2006b), although, in the UK, fostered children can stay until twenty-one years old. With early independence, young people lose adult supervision prematurely from their developmental trajectory, and this can lead to psychological and behavioural difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency and early parenting in adolescents (Cashmore and Ainsworth, 2004; Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN), 2007). Hence, early independent living has significant potential to hamper educational progress. Meanwhile, the labour market increasingly relies on academic credentials as basic criteria for employment, so those without Year 12 or vocational training have limited opportunities for employment (Cashmore et al., 2007; Stein and Munro, 2008). Unqualified young people transitioning from care can struggle to find employment and, because they also lack family resources, may face greater hardship compared to their peers in the general population, whose transition to adulthood is supported by parents and other family members over an extended period (Courtney, 2008; Wise et al., 2010). There are no official records of how many children in care complete secondary schooling or pursue further or higher education in a given year in Australia. However, anecdotal evidence and some small-scale studies indicate that the school early leaving rate for children in care is considerably higher (42 per cent) than the national rate of 25 per cent (CREATE Foundation, 2006; Cashmore et al., 2007; Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2009). Available data internationally are similar, suggesting children in care generally perform ‘academically below what is normal for their age, are at risk of “disengaging” or are disengaged from school and often don’t achieve any academic qualification’ (Wise et al., 2010, p. 6). It is fair, then, to hypothesise that the number of children who pursue post-secondary education might be exceedingly small. While it is hard even to guesstimate the number of children in care who go on to higher education in Australia, Jurczyszyn and Tilbury (2012) comment that school completion rates are worryingly low and higher-education attainment even lower. In the UK, the Department of Education (2015) reports that 6 per cent of care leavers were in higher education in 2014 and 2015, this being a percentage point lower than in the 2008–09 period (Department of Education, 2010). In the mid-1990s, education of children in care briefly attracted attention in Australia following the release of state-based reports highlighting their under-achievement (Cashmore and Paxman, 1996). However, there is no evidence of change in outcomes for children in care. Research reports, post 2000, have continued to highlight the low academic achievement of children in care, linking this to adverse outcomes for care leavers (CREATE Foundation, 2006; McDowall, 2009, 2011, 2013; Wise et al., 2010; Jurczyszyn and Tilbury, 2012). The CREATE Foundation, an Australian organisation providing support to children and young people in care, has reported on the educational circumstances and needs of school-aged children in care since 2001 in a series of publications called Report Cards on Education (CREATE Foundation, 2001, 2006). The Foundation surveyed 297 children and young people who were randomly selected through CREATE Foundation’s membership database and state and territory records (CREATE Foundation, 2006). The survey found that children in care were: … much less likely to continue within mainstream education beyond the period of compulsion; much more likely to be older than other children in their grade level; on average, attend a larger number of primary and high schools than other students; and missed substantial periods of school through changes of placement (CREATE Foundation, 2006, p. 30). A few, relatively recent, mostly state-based studies have examined the educational circumstances of children in care (Cashmore et al., 2007; Wise et al., 2010; Townsend, 2011). The most recent analysis, conducted by Townsend (2011) using the National Literacy and Numeracy test results of 2,317 New South Wales children in care, and qualitative data of fifty-six children and 187 relevant adults in their lives, had similar results. Other studies focusing on the well-being of children in care have also highlighted low academic achievements in the UK (Barber and Delfabbro, 2004; Jackson and Cameron, 2012) and Australia. Both Barber and Delfabbro (2004), in a study investigating placement movements, and Fernandez (2010), in a longitudinal study investigating foster-care, found children’s education was compromised by multiple placement moves, this being supported more recently by Jackson and Cameron (2012). The emotional, social and behavioural issues of many children in care also contribute to school suspension and expulsion, leading to poor academic outcomes. Overall, however, studies specifically investigating the education of children in care are very limited in number and, in spite of a substantial increase in spending on child protection and OOHC services, educational attainment of children receiving these services has not much improved, even after reforms in Australia, including extension of financial assistance and support to care leavers to age twenty-one or twenty-five, depending on the state of residence. This suggests specific strategies may be needed to improve educational attainment. Furthermore, there are no studies of the experiences of women with care backgrounds and their educational outcomes. This study was designed to investigate the factors that contributed to the education of academically successful ex-care women with the intention that the findings might inform current practice to promote the educational achievement of girls in care. Research methodology and method The core research question was ‘What might have contributed to the education of academically successful ex-care women?’, with the aim of investigating the factors that enabled ex-care women to succeed in education. The educational journeys of academically successful ex-care women were collected and analysed for relevant factors using a qualitative, narrative inquiry approach underpinned by feminist principles. The feminist principles of reciprocity; equity in the relationship between the researcher and the participant; acknowledgement that abuse, prejudice and discrimination are wrong; sharing something of the self; and concluding interviews on a high note (e.g. appreciating participants’ achievements) were clearly relevant to the collection of rich data (Oakley, 1981; Reinharz, 1992; Campbell and Wasco, 2000). It was assumed that the insights of those who had been directly affected by OOHC services could provide useful ideas for promoting the education of girls, and perhaps children in general, in care. The women’s suggestions of how to support education were also solicited. Narrative inquiry is based on the premise that individual narratives provide a source from which to derive knowledge about the social world. Narratives are reflections on, and representations of, lived experience and are embedded in societal and cultural contexts of the time (Czarniawska-Joerges 2004). The data source of narrative inquiry is biographical particulars of people as narrated by the people themselves. Thus, the stories of the people who lived a particular social phenomenon constitute the empirical material for narrative researchers from which to understand that phenomenon (Czarniawska-Joerges 2004; Chase, 2008). The phenomenon may be a specific event, context, behaviour, action, episode or time period; and the information may be embedded in parts or the whole of the individual’s life story (Czarniawska-Joerges 2004). The analysis focuses on what the substantive elements of the participants’ accounts tell about the social world. The study was conducted with the approval of La Trobe University’s Human Ethics Committee. The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines, as well as the Codes of Ethics of the Australian Association of Social Workers and the International Federation of Social Workers were followed. Because of the use of personal stories, particular care was taken to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of participants. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit participants who had experience and knowledge relevant to the research question (Silverman and Marvasti, 2008; Ezzy, 2010). Ex-care women with university degrees were selected, as university degrees are a widely recognised measure of academic success. The sample was restricted to women due to the lack of literature about the experiences of girls in care; because it was thought that the social and educational experiences of girls and boys in care in earlier decades may be a relevant factor given that authors such as Van Krieken (1991) have claimed different career trajectories for girls and boys; and because the doctoral student, herself, had experienced and observed as a child protection worker the challenges of achieving higher education, believing her understandings of women’s disadvantage might contribute to gaining rich narrative data (Hanmer and Hearn, 1999). The recruitment criteria required participants to have been in care for at least two years between the ages of eight and twelve, or twelve months if they entered care after the age of twelve, but some leeway was allowed in the course of the recruitment process to include those who had been in care for less than two years continuously, but had been in care on several different occasions and therefore experienced disrupted schooling. The criteria ensured that participants had been in care long enough to be both engaged in education and able to recall their experiences related to this. An initial recruitment process in the state of Victoria via media outlets was unsuccessful due to lack of media interest and lack of funds for specific advertising. Further recruitment was undertaken using social networks to share an initial e-mail, followed by advertising in Children Australia and the CLAN. This resulted in participants from several states in Australia. In-depth, semi-structured interviewing, both in person and by phone, was used to collect data, with the interviewer contributing to the shaping of the stories of participants by asking questions, prompting and probing. Thus, the production of participants’ stories was a collaborative event and narratives co-constructed (Mishler, 1986; Riessman, 1993). Interviews were audio-recorded with consent and pseudonyms used, except in the case of one participant who wished to use her real name. The interviews were transcribed and ‘cleaned’ to enhance the narrative flow (Elliot, 2005; Atkinson, 2007). Thematic analysis—widely used by researchers to interrogate narratives for their content (events, experiences, etc.) (Mishler, 1995; Riessman, 2008)—was considered an appropriate strategy for developing an understanding of, and for comparing, the experiences of participants over time (Riessman, 2008). Findings The findings are presented in two sections entitled ‘Conducive environment’ and ‘Personal factors’, which encompass the themes identified in the analysis of the data. A conducive environment describes the features of a care context in which educational needs were addressed through, for instance, psychological support to overcome trauma, enrolment in a school that provided for specific educational needs and/or support for organising additional tuition or counselling. It also describes an environment that avoids stigmatising children in care, including in relation to their capacity for learning, and offers encouragement in all aspects of learning and knowledge. Personal factors refers to individual characteristics that were associated with educational success being achieved. We recognise that there were some overlaps and links between themes. The women participating in this study were aged between twenty-five and sixty-five years, and the women had worked or were currently working in jobs that could be said to fit into the middle-to-high-status tier of Australia’s employment hierarchy. They considered that education had given them this status, which earned them greater respect than in their earlier experiences. The women claimed that academic qualifications gave them financial independence, which was valued given past poverty. Nine had gone to university directly from school and the other nine later re-entered education, later graduating from a university. Conducive environment A number of themes were strongly associated with educational success and are grouped together below describing the nature of the environment in which learning was supported. In this environment, stigmatising of children in relation to education is minimised, although some women had experienced stigma and bullying in school settings related to being in care and had found this a disincentive to furthering their education. Others talked about the lack of attention to their learning needs by carers. For example, one woman commented on the lack of a quiet space in which to do her homework whilst in foster-care, while another said: ‘I never did my homework. I think nobody ever asked whether I did my homework. Nobody ever helped me if I did …. Didn’t get any support, none of that’ (Judy). In particular, the following aspects—valuing of education, social networks, practical and financial support—stood out as indispensable ingredients of a conducive environment for academic success of children in care. Valuing of education A key element was the importance of valuing education; the consensus was that children in care need exposure to environments, attitudes and resources that express the value of educational achievement. The women’s lived experiences supported that grasping the value of education was sometimes experienced as a subtle and gradual process across a number of years due to ongoing exposure to people who believed in the importance of being educated. Doreen, who lived in two group homes from the ages of seven to eighteen years in the 1960s and early 1970s, says: I guess her [holiday mother]1 influence in my life was incredibly profound. … She knew that the pathway for most of the children in my situation was not that they would finish school …. She was very focused on making sure that I did have an education all the way through my life … even as I got older she said, ‘you know, you will have a university degree’. Viola also experienced an environment that valued education: My foster parent was a secondary school teacher and she enrolled me in the private school where she was teaching … so there was a strong sort of expectation that, you know, get some sort of tertiary qualification or pursue some sort of academic qualification (Viola). For others, especially those re-entering education years after they left care, the value of having an education was realised through a particular event, as with Jenna: Our marriage was an abusive one—disastrous. And I couldn’t see my way out of it and then I had a very good person I met at work who was encouraging me to study. … And that made sense to me and I thought why not? That’s when I started. Regardless of the timing of tertiary education, the women identified the importance of being within an environment that consistently valued and promoted learning. Social networks Social networks were seen as critical by the women for achieving educational outcomes. Valuing education, above, often incorporated the building of social connections that provided ongoing validation, encouragement and celebration of achievements. The women’s narratives contained numerous accounts that included reference to the range of people contributing to the social networks of the women when they were in care and/or undertaking education—friends, relatives, foster-carers, a holiday mother, teachers and social workers, though, worryingly, there were few people in professional roles mentioned. The people in the women’s social networks provided psychological and emotional support which directly, and indirectly, contributed to them getting an education. Such support was crucial for their resilience, especially when the women were on the verge of giving up: … you form attachments—like to my aunty—I used to live with her [during school holidays]. She was one of the important people in my life because she mentored me; she loved me; she gave me all the support I needed—just like a mother would! … And so I learnt that families can be, you know, a supportive structure (Doreen). There were two teachers who really stood out … [because] they went over and beyond what’s normal. The carer [foster mother] kept saying finish it [school] as well (Ruth). It appeared that the belief of others in the women’s capacity to achieve educational goals and willingness to offer support were important ingredients. While children and young people often find it difficult to articulate the impacts of social supports, in retrospect, the women were able to identify supportive relationships as promoting their well-being, as well as the additional emotional support that was needed to overcome difficulties. Practical and financial support Common to all participants was the difficulty in gaining access to sufficient practical and financial resources to promote or continue their education. Several women had to withdraw from courses. Lack of resources also prevented young care leavers from continuing their education, as they needed to work and support themselves. For some participants, teachers, social workers and significant adults from the social network provided resources, which included equipment, transport, formal and informal tutoring, and attending significant events in place of the family. For some, occasional access to additional funds from school or welfare agencies provided the capacity to stay in school or courses. All the women had received practical support at one time or another, but financial support was not always forthcoming and delayed education significantly for some. Tessa received both financial and material support from school and a social worker, which helped her to stay in school and later complete university assignments: I had an old … computer. I got it from the social worker who found the accommodation for me. It was about Year 11—she gave me a really old computer that was still running on DOS. But it served the purpose; I can type up and print assignments, so that was what I was using [while at university] … and The student welfare officer at school was hugely instrumental in making sure that I didn’t have to worry about a whole bunch of things like text books and school uniform. Those sorts of things that, if I had to pay for those things, I couldn’t have been able to afford it. Mila commented: ‘And my foster mum encouraged me to go and do a TAFE course and she even paid the fee.’ While most children and young people in Western society assume the resources for an education will be available to them, these women could make no such assumption as a result of being in the care system. Thus, when the resources were found, it was considered remarkable. Personal factors There were two personal factors that contributed to achieving education: resilience and motivation. Resilience If ‘resilience’ is regarded as the self-righting capacity of people to spring back from exposure to adversity and other environmental stressors (Gilligan, 2006; Daniel, 2010), then some women certainly demonstrated strong resilience, including the ability to advocate for themselves in relation to education. With regard to education, specifically, some women showed resilience by completing school and university education despite numerous barriers. Others showed resilience during their later return to study by persevering against difficult life circumstances and academic challenges arising from fundamental educational deficiencies. Heather’s narrative demonstrates how her resilience helped her to perform well in education. Since entering care at fourteen, Heather lived with five foster families between Years 10 and 12. When she was in Year 12, she told her social worker that she did not want to keep moving because she wanted to prepare for the Year 12 exams. Heather explained: I knew what I wanted to do—I wanted to do social work. I was really clear about that and I knew what subjects I had to do. So I wanted to do my exams well and did not want to keep moving. My social worker had to put an ad on the radio: ‘We’ve got this 16 year old girl who is doing her HSC [Year 12]. She needs a stable home. Is anyone interested in providing her with a home?’ So I lived with this particular family [found through advertising] until I finished my HSC. Motivation Given the severe adversities experienced, the women could not have achieved, academically, had they not possessed strong motivation. They believed in the value of education as a form of legitimation. As adults, they were also now able to articulate motivation for education as a pathway out of poverty—of their families of origin, sometimes also of their foster-care families, as well as when caring for themselves as young adults. The motivation for academic achievement was such that some women, unable to finish their degree at the first attempt, went back years later and completed it on their second or even third attempt: A big driving force for me was that I didn’t want to be poor. ... So I knew that I had to get a job that paid well and one that gave me economic independence so that will mean having to do a degree (Heather). I was trapped in poverty. I saw education as the way out. And I still believe that, I believe that education is the key out of poverty (Moira). I think that … something about education—it gives you legitimacy as a human being … I think it’s a driver because it legitimises me—an education is one way of legitimising or giving you authority (Doreen). Discussion In the past, children in care were frequently ‘trained’ for employment in gendered roles (Van Krieken, 1991), with boys expected to undertake labouring jobs and girls in domestic roles, though there is no documented evidence of educational outcomes. Some of the women in this study were subject to such expectations of low academic achievement. However, the experiences of the women in this study demonstrate that social and societal, as well as personal, factors contribute to the educational attainment of children in care. The promotion of education for children in OOHC thus needs to be viewed from an ecological perspective which addresses both individual characteristics and environmental ones. Given the feelings of instability and insecurity inherently associated with being in OOHC, children entering care are particularly vulnerable and need social and physical environments enriched with protective factors in order to become resilient and motivated students. This study clearly showed that a significant adult who values and promotes learning is vitally important to children in care both receiving, and understanding the value of, an education. Some women’s experiences demonstrated that just one adult can do this. However, there is evidence suggesting many children in care do not develop a psychological bond with an adult (Barber and Delfabbro, 2009; Fernandez, 2010) and this is of great concern. Actively preserving existing ties with parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers, family friends, parents of friends or any other caring adults would be the first option for ensuring these children have a caring adult in their lives as identified by Barth (2009) and Maluccio and Ainsworth (2009). However, for those who come from extremely disrupted families, parental contact may not be an option or beneficial (Barth, 2009). Whether or not maintaining or re-establishing family connections is realised, carers can also become significant adults in the lives of children in long-term care, especially for those children who are rarely visited by parents (Whittaker and Maluccio, 2009), effectively making the carers the closest adults in their lives. Ensuring a good match of child to carer is therefore crucial in order to encourage the development of a warm relationship, especially for longer-term care. Some participants in this study, who believed their foster mothers instrumental in cultivating their aspiration to go to university, saw them as their own family. However, as found in other studies in the UK and Australia (Biehal et al., 2010; Fernandez, 2010; Townsend, 2011; O’Higgins et al., 2015), most women in this study had multiple placements and did not bond with a foster-carer. The point here is that workers might need to look to other individuals to find a supportive adult for children in care if there is no one within their existing relationships, and build this connection into the child’s social network. The significant adult does not necessarily have to live with the child, but needs the capacity to provide a warm relationship with the emotional and psychological support that promotes their capacity for education. Having a significant adult is also useful when children in care move to independence, especially for those who move at sixteen years of age—a trend in the OOHC population. A lack of adult guidance during young people’s transition to independence can lead to negative outcomes, including failure to complete education (Riley and Masten, 2005; CLAN, 2007). Although two women in this study had had caring foster mothers, they moved to independence soon after they turned sixteen because they wanted to break away from the comings and goings of foster siblings. However, they still maintained close relationships with these foster mothers, who consistently encouraged them to complete schooling and take up higher education. Resilience and motivation are also critical factors for children in receiving an education. As was the case with the participants in this study, some children in care possess resilience, both in general and in terms of educational achievement, whilst others may need the support of adults and their environment to help build resilience (Gilligan, 2006). As resilience can be fostered in children by reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors in their social environment (Rutter, 2009), the care environment needs to be enriched to foster resilience and educational opportunities. Weiner’s (1992) motivation theory purports that emotion plays a key role in the determination of patterns of motivation, with students more optimistic about future success if they attribute their failure to lack of effort as opposed to a lack of ability. Learned helplessness and abandoning of tasks rather than increasing effort is, Weiner (1992) suggests, because of attributing failure to a lack of ability. This is precisely what most women who left school early and returned to study later in life in this study did; they gave up on learning because they saw their failure to understand and successfully complete schoolwork as a lack of ability. Thus it becomes imperative that adults involved with children in care avoid negative commentary about the lack of, or slow, academic achievement of children, as this is de-motivating through diminishing already low self-esteem and confidence. As was the case with half the women in this study sample, many children in OOHC leave school early. The women in this study who left school early disliked going to school stating reasons such as a lack of academic support in the class to aid their understanding, together with the stigma associated with being in care. As reported in a number of research studies, children currently in care also experience these issues (CREATE Foundation, 2006; Owusu-Bempah, 2010). These women’s experiences indicate that keeping children in care at school means meeting their individual learning needs, as well as offering a social environment free from bullying and stigma. School is a very important place for these children, not only education-wise, but in contributing to their resilience. It gives them opportunities to develop pro-social friendships, take part in extra-curricular activities, and learn social and problem-solving skills (Masten, 2006; Stein, 2006a, 2006b). Conclusion The limitations inherent in such a small-scale study make it difficult to generalise the results to the population of children in OOHC in Australia or beyond, especially as these women lived in care many years ago. However, it was evident here, as in other studies, that the education of these children is hampered by barriers which are still present today across Western countries, at least. However, there are many ways in which adults can contribute to a successful educational outcome for children in OOHC. One critical factor is the need for at least one adult in children’s social networks who consistently promotes the value of education and provides emotional and psychological support when the child is struggling with educational demands. Children in care also need to be provided with practical and financial support and, if there are no relatives or carers committed to their well-being, it is important for the responsible professionals to provide or arrange such support. Personal characteristics such as resilience and motivation also play a significant part in achieving an education. Therefore, it is very important to provide these children with opportunities to build resilience and develop their motivation. Resilient and motivated children in care are highly likely to gain an education which, in turn, helps them to transit into a successful adulthood. 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Jurczyszyn R., Tilbury C. ( 2012) ‘Higher and further education for care leavers: A road less travelled’, Developing Practice: The Child, Youth and Family Work Journal , 33(Spring), pp. 10– 22. Lonne B., Parton N., Thomson J., Harries M. ( 2009) Reforming Child Protection , London, Routledge. Maluccio A. N., Ainsworth F. ( 2009) ‘Drug use by parents: A challenge for family reunification practice’, in Courtney M., Thoburn J. (eds), Children in State Care , Aldershot, Ashgate, pp. 349– 533. Masten A. S. ( 2006) ‘Promoting resilience in development: A general framework for systems of care’, in Flynn R. J., Dudding P. M., Barber J. G. (eds), Promoting Resilience in Child Welfare , Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press, pp. 3– 17. McDowall J. J. ( 2009) CREATE Report Card 2009—Transitioning from Care: Tracking Progress , Sydney, CREATE Foundation. McDowall J. J. ( 2011) Transitioning from Care in Australia: An Evaluation of CREATE’s What’s the Plan? 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(eds), Child Welfare Research: Advances for Practice and Policy , New York, Oxford University Press, pp. 108– 24. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Townsend M. L. ( 2011) ‘Are we making the grade? The education of children and young people in out-of-home care’, doctoral dissertation, Southern Cross University, New South Wales, available online at epubs.scu.edu.au⟨THESES⟩195 (accessed 15 March 2017). Van Krieken R. ( 1991) Children and the State: Social Control and the Formation of Australian Child Welfare , Sydney, Allen & Unwin. Weiner B. ( 1992) Human Motivation: Metaphors, Theories and Research , London, Sage. Whittaker J. K., Maluccio A. N. ( 2009) ‘Rethinking “child placement”: A reflective essay’, in Courtney M., Thoburn J. (eds), Children in State Care , Aldershot, Ashgate, pp. 23– 49. Wise S. ( 2008) The UK Looking After Children Approach in Australia, Research Report No. 2 , Melbourne, Australian Institute of Family Studies. Wise S., Pollock S., Mitchell G., Argus C., Farquhar P. ( 2010) Care-System Impacts on Academic Outcomes: Research Report , Melbourne, Anglicare Victoria & Wesley Mission Victoria. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Social Work Oxford University Press

Promoting Academic Success of Children in Care

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
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0045-3102
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1468-263X
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10.1093/bjsw/bcx029
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Abstract

Abstract Evidence from international studies shows that a significant number of adults who have been in state care are known to be living in adverse circumstances. Their unemployment rate is high as well as their rates of poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and criminal offending. A key factor contributing to these poor adult outcomes for children is lack of educational or vocational qualifications. There is evidence that a high number of children in care leave school early, with their failure to attain a tertiary qualification directly linked to this. This Australian study was designed to investigate the factors that contributed to the education of academically successful ex-care women with the intention that the findings might inform current practice to promote the educational achievement of children in care contexts. Eighteen ex-care Australian women with a university degree were interviewed, their educational journeys collected and the data analysed using a narrative methodology. What emerged was that a range of factors contributed to supporting the education of children and young people in care contexts. The foundational, or overarching, themes emerging from the data were ‘conducive environment’ and ‘personal factors’. Conducive environment included the sometimes interrelated themes of: valuing of education, social networks; practical and financial resources; and personal factors included resilience and motivating factors. These themes and their elements are discussed in light of current practice implications. Children and adolescents, education, looked after children Background and review of the literature This doctoral study on the lived experiences of eighteen Australian women graduates with an out-of-home care (OOHC) history investigated the factors contributing to educational success with the intent of identifying how the education of children in OOHC might be enhanced. OOHC included foster and residential care, with some participants experiencing both, but not kinship care. Results for both types of care had a high degree of commonality, so are not identified separately. Professional practitioners working in child protection and related services, both in Australia and overseas, have been concerned for many years about the conditions that undermine educational achievements of children in care. Historically, children in care were ‘trained’ for unskilled jobs along gendered lines (Van Krieken, 1991), which is less evident in the current context. However, the educational disadvantages of this group have continued, as evidenced by high rates of unemployment together with poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and criminal offences (McDowall, 2011, 2013; Moslehuddin, 2012). A key factor contributing to these poor adult outcomes is the lack of educational or vocational attainment linked, in turn, to early school leaving (Carter, 2002; Berridge and Saunders, 2009; McDowall, 2009, 2011). There is evidence that large numbers of children in care leave school before completing secondary education (Daly and Gilligan, 2010; Berridge, 2012) and their educational attainment generally lags behind their school peers (Jackson et al., 2005; Flynn et al., 2010; O’Higgins et al., 2015). Contributing factors include lack of nurturing—the consistent display by parents of loving, warm and accepting behaviour towards children—which research connects to children’s achievements at school (Perkins-Mangulabnan and Flynn, 2006; O’Higgins et al., 2015). Research suggests that parenting is the most important factor associated with educational attainment at age ten, which, in turn, is strongly associated with achievement later in life. Indeed, parental involvement in education seems more important than poverty, school environment and the influence of peers (HM Government, 2005, in Lonne et al., 2009, p. 49). Thus it is common for the education of children in care to have been seriously affected before they come to the attention of authorities. Events requiring the removal of children from family frequently have debilitating impacts on children’s education and, after entering care, they face further issues that may negatively affect their education. Such further disruptions to education may arise as a result of procedures and practices associated with child welfare systems (Smith and McLean, 2013; Mendes et al., 2014). Research as well as practice wisdom suggests that, in many instances, children are placed with strangers, increasing their emotional vulnerability and diminishing their chances of engaging productively in schoolwork (Porges, 2015; Hughes, 2015). This was supported by participants in this study as well as the view that children are commonly placed in short-term emergency accommodation first, followed by a number of placement changes until a suitable placement meeting their needs is found. Often these moves from one placement to another are accompanied by school changes, further interrupting their education. Some programmes (e.g. Looking After Children) and more enlightened policies (e.g. After Care Support) have been developed both in Australia and internationally, although Australia has been slow to initiate policies supporting the education of children in care compared to Canada, the UK and the USA (Jackson et al., 2005). Looking After Children is a framework that fosters resilience in children in care through partnerships which pays specific attention to developmental needs including education (Wise, 2008). A UK development, it is now used internationally, including in Australia. After Care Support is a general term for the programmes now in place internationally, and in Australia, to support those leaving care particularly during the transition to independence (Department of Human Services, 2015). What exactly this means varies from country to country and, in Australia, from state to state, but might include, for example, support for tertiary study. However, children in care, as a group, still lack specific assistance to compensate for the disadvantages they experience and the impacts on their schooling. Existing studies indicate these children continue to be disadvantaged in numerous ways which include lack of support networks and engagement with professionally trained people who could offer support combined with high expectations for educational outcomes. This disadvantage is often associated with social isolation and lack of self-esteem (Carter, 2002; CREATE Foundation, 2006; Jackson and Simon, 2006; Owusu-Bempah, 2010). Over time, they fall further behind, finding it harder to catch up to the required standard. Leaving school becomes an attractive option—often unplanned, without a career pathway or framework for further education, such as an apprenticeship or vocational training, and with few or no qualifications (Jackson and Simon, 2006; Stein and Munro, 2008; Testa, 2008). In addition, many young people in care assume independent living at sixteen years of age in the UK (Courtney, 2008), Australia (Mendes et al., 2011) and the USA (Stein, 2006a, 2006b), although, in the UK, fostered children can stay until twenty-one years old. With early independence, young people lose adult supervision prematurely from their developmental trajectory, and this can lead to psychological and behavioural difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency and early parenting in adolescents (Cashmore and Ainsworth, 2004; Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN), 2007). Hence, early independent living has significant potential to hamper educational progress. Meanwhile, the labour market increasingly relies on academic credentials as basic criteria for employment, so those without Year 12 or vocational training have limited opportunities for employment (Cashmore et al., 2007; Stein and Munro, 2008). Unqualified young people transitioning from care can struggle to find employment and, because they also lack family resources, may face greater hardship compared to their peers in the general population, whose transition to adulthood is supported by parents and other family members over an extended period (Courtney, 2008; Wise et al., 2010). There are no official records of how many children in care complete secondary schooling or pursue further or higher education in a given year in Australia. However, anecdotal evidence and some small-scale studies indicate that the school early leaving rate for children in care is considerably higher (42 per cent) than the national rate of 25 per cent (CREATE Foundation, 2006; Cashmore et al., 2007; Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2009). Available data internationally are similar, suggesting children in care generally perform ‘academically below what is normal for their age, are at risk of “disengaging” or are disengaged from school and often don’t achieve any academic qualification’ (Wise et al., 2010, p. 6). It is fair, then, to hypothesise that the number of children who pursue post-secondary education might be exceedingly small. While it is hard even to guesstimate the number of children in care who go on to higher education in Australia, Jurczyszyn and Tilbury (2012) comment that school completion rates are worryingly low and higher-education attainment even lower. In the UK, the Department of Education (2015) reports that 6 per cent of care leavers were in higher education in 2014 and 2015, this being a percentage point lower than in the 2008–09 period (Department of Education, 2010). In the mid-1990s, education of children in care briefly attracted attention in Australia following the release of state-based reports highlighting their under-achievement (Cashmore and Paxman, 1996). However, there is no evidence of change in outcomes for children in care. Research reports, post 2000, have continued to highlight the low academic achievement of children in care, linking this to adverse outcomes for care leavers (CREATE Foundation, 2006; McDowall, 2009, 2011, 2013; Wise et al., 2010; Jurczyszyn and Tilbury, 2012). The CREATE Foundation, an Australian organisation providing support to children and young people in care, has reported on the educational circumstances and needs of school-aged children in care since 2001 in a series of publications called Report Cards on Education (CREATE Foundation, 2001, 2006). The Foundation surveyed 297 children and young people who were randomly selected through CREATE Foundation’s membership database and state and territory records (CREATE Foundation, 2006). The survey found that children in care were: … much less likely to continue within mainstream education beyond the period of compulsion; much more likely to be older than other children in their grade level; on average, attend a larger number of primary and high schools than other students; and missed substantial periods of school through changes of placement (CREATE Foundation, 2006, p. 30). A few, relatively recent, mostly state-based studies have examined the educational circumstances of children in care (Cashmore et al., 2007; Wise et al., 2010; Townsend, 2011). The most recent analysis, conducted by Townsend (2011) using the National Literacy and Numeracy test results of 2,317 New South Wales children in care, and qualitative data of fifty-six children and 187 relevant adults in their lives, had similar results. Other studies focusing on the well-being of children in care have also highlighted low academic achievements in the UK (Barber and Delfabbro, 2004; Jackson and Cameron, 2012) and Australia. Both Barber and Delfabbro (2004), in a study investigating placement movements, and Fernandez (2010), in a longitudinal study investigating foster-care, found children’s education was compromised by multiple placement moves, this being supported more recently by Jackson and Cameron (2012). The emotional, social and behavioural issues of many children in care also contribute to school suspension and expulsion, leading to poor academic outcomes. Overall, however, studies specifically investigating the education of children in care are very limited in number and, in spite of a substantial increase in spending on child protection and OOHC services, educational attainment of children receiving these services has not much improved, even after reforms in Australia, including extension of financial assistance and support to care leavers to age twenty-one or twenty-five, depending on the state of residence. This suggests specific strategies may be needed to improve educational attainment. Furthermore, there are no studies of the experiences of women with care backgrounds and their educational outcomes. This study was designed to investigate the factors that contributed to the education of academically successful ex-care women with the intention that the findings might inform current practice to promote the educational achievement of girls in care. Research methodology and method The core research question was ‘What might have contributed to the education of academically successful ex-care women?’, with the aim of investigating the factors that enabled ex-care women to succeed in education. The educational journeys of academically successful ex-care women were collected and analysed for relevant factors using a qualitative, narrative inquiry approach underpinned by feminist principles. The feminist principles of reciprocity; equity in the relationship between the researcher and the participant; acknowledgement that abuse, prejudice and discrimination are wrong; sharing something of the self; and concluding interviews on a high note (e.g. appreciating participants’ achievements) were clearly relevant to the collection of rich data (Oakley, 1981; Reinharz, 1992; Campbell and Wasco, 2000). It was assumed that the insights of those who had been directly affected by OOHC services could provide useful ideas for promoting the education of girls, and perhaps children in general, in care. The women’s suggestions of how to support education were also solicited. Narrative inquiry is based on the premise that individual narratives provide a source from which to derive knowledge about the social world. Narratives are reflections on, and representations of, lived experience and are embedded in societal and cultural contexts of the time (Czarniawska-Joerges 2004). The data source of narrative inquiry is biographical particulars of people as narrated by the people themselves. Thus, the stories of the people who lived a particular social phenomenon constitute the empirical material for narrative researchers from which to understand that phenomenon (Czarniawska-Joerges 2004; Chase, 2008). The phenomenon may be a specific event, context, behaviour, action, episode or time period; and the information may be embedded in parts or the whole of the individual’s life story (Czarniawska-Joerges 2004). The analysis focuses on what the substantive elements of the participants’ accounts tell about the social world. The study was conducted with the approval of La Trobe University’s Human Ethics Committee. The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines, as well as the Codes of Ethics of the Australian Association of Social Workers and the International Federation of Social Workers were followed. Because of the use of personal stories, particular care was taken to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of participants. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit participants who had experience and knowledge relevant to the research question (Silverman and Marvasti, 2008; Ezzy, 2010). Ex-care women with university degrees were selected, as university degrees are a widely recognised measure of academic success. The sample was restricted to women due to the lack of literature about the experiences of girls in care; because it was thought that the social and educational experiences of girls and boys in care in earlier decades may be a relevant factor given that authors such as Van Krieken (1991) have claimed different career trajectories for girls and boys; and because the doctoral student, herself, had experienced and observed as a child protection worker the challenges of achieving higher education, believing her understandings of women’s disadvantage might contribute to gaining rich narrative data (Hanmer and Hearn, 1999). The recruitment criteria required participants to have been in care for at least two years between the ages of eight and twelve, or twelve months if they entered care after the age of twelve, but some leeway was allowed in the course of the recruitment process to include those who had been in care for less than two years continuously, but had been in care on several different occasions and therefore experienced disrupted schooling. The criteria ensured that participants had been in care long enough to be both engaged in education and able to recall their experiences related to this. An initial recruitment process in the state of Victoria via media outlets was unsuccessful due to lack of media interest and lack of funds for specific advertising. Further recruitment was undertaken using social networks to share an initial e-mail, followed by advertising in Children Australia and the CLAN. This resulted in participants from several states in Australia. In-depth, semi-structured interviewing, both in person and by phone, was used to collect data, with the interviewer contributing to the shaping of the stories of participants by asking questions, prompting and probing. Thus, the production of participants’ stories was a collaborative event and narratives co-constructed (Mishler, 1986; Riessman, 1993). Interviews were audio-recorded with consent and pseudonyms used, except in the case of one participant who wished to use her real name. The interviews were transcribed and ‘cleaned’ to enhance the narrative flow (Elliot, 2005; Atkinson, 2007). Thematic analysis—widely used by researchers to interrogate narratives for their content (events, experiences, etc.) (Mishler, 1995; Riessman, 2008)—was considered an appropriate strategy for developing an understanding of, and for comparing, the experiences of participants over time (Riessman, 2008). Findings The findings are presented in two sections entitled ‘Conducive environment’ and ‘Personal factors’, which encompass the themes identified in the analysis of the data. A conducive environment describes the features of a care context in which educational needs were addressed through, for instance, psychological support to overcome trauma, enrolment in a school that provided for specific educational needs and/or support for organising additional tuition or counselling. It also describes an environment that avoids stigmatising children in care, including in relation to their capacity for learning, and offers encouragement in all aspects of learning and knowledge. Personal factors refers to individual characteristics that were associated with educational success being achieved. We recognise that there were some overlaps and links between themes. The women participating in this study were aged between twenty-five and sixty-five years, and the women had worked or were currently working in jobs that could be said to fit into the middle-to-high-status tier of Australia’s employment hierarchy. They considered that education had given them this status, which earned them greater respect than in their earlier experiences. The women claimed that academic qualifications gave them financial independence, which was valued given past poverty. Nine had gone to university directly from school and the other nine later re-entered education, later graduating from a university. Conducive environment A number of themes were strongly associated with educational success and are grouped together below describing the nature of the environment in which learning was supported. In this environment, stigmatising of children in relation to education is minimised, although some women had experienced stigma and bullying in school settings related to being in care and had found this a disincentive to furthering their education. Others talked about the lack of attention to their learning needs by carers. For example, one woman commented on the lack of a quiet space in which to do her homework whilst in foster-care, while another said: ‘I never did my homework. I think nobody ever asked whether I did my homework. Nobody ever helped me if I did …. Didn’t get any support, none of that’ (Judy). In particular, the following aspects—valuing of education, social networks, practical and financial support—stood out as indispensable ingredients of a conducive environment for academic success of children in care. Valuing of education A key element was the importance of valuing education; the consensus was that children in care need exposure to environments, attitudes and resources that express the value of educational achievement. The women’s lived experiences supported that grasping the value of education was sometimes experienced as a subtle and gradual process across a number of years due to ongoing exposure to people who believed in the importance of being educated. Doreen, who lived in two group homes from the ages of seven to eighteen years in the 1960s and early 1970s, says: I guess her [holiday mother]1 influence in my life was incredibly profound. … She knew that the pathway for most of the children in my situation was not that they would finish school …. She was very focused on making sure that I did have an education all the way through my life … even as I got older she said, ‘you know, you will have a university degree’. Viola also experienced an environment that valued education: My foster parent was a secondary school teacher and she enrolled me in the private school where she was teaching … so there was a strong sort of expectation that, you know, get some sort of tertiary qualification or pursue some sort of academic qualification (Viola). For others, especially those re-entering education years after they left care, the value of having an education was realised through a particular event, as with Jenna: Our marriage was an abusive one—disastrous. And I couldn’t see my way out of it and then I had a very good person I met at work who was encouraging me to study. … And that made sense to me and I thought why not? That’s when I started. Regardless of the timing of tertiary education, the women identified the importance of being within an environment that consistently valued and promoted learning. Social networks Social networks were seen as critical by the women for achieving educational outcomes. Valuing education, above, often incorporated the building of social connections that provided ongoing validation, encouragement and celebration of achievements. The women’s narratives contained numerous accounts that included reference to the range of people contributing to the social networks of the women when they were in care and/or undertaking education—friends, relatives, foster-carers, a holiday mother, teachers and social workers, though, worryingly, there were few people in professional roles mentioned. The people in the women’s social networks provided psychological and emotional support which directly, and indirectly, contributed to them getting an education. Such support was crucial for their resilience, especially when the women were on the verge of giving up: … you form attachments—like to my aunty—I used to live with her [during school holidays]. She was one of the important people in my life because she mentored me; she loved me; she gave me all the support I needed—just like a mother would! … And so I learnt that families can be, you know, a supportive structure (Doreen). There were two teachers who really stood out … [because] they went over and beyond what’s normal. The carer [foster mother] kept saying finish it [school] as well (Ruth). It appeared that the belief of others in the women’s capacity to achieve educational goals and willingness to offer support were important ingredients. While children and young people often find it difficult to articulate the impacts of social supports, in retrospect, the women were able to identify supportive relationships as promoting their well-being, as well as the additional emotional support that was needed to overcome difficulties. Practical and financial support Common to all participants was the difficulty in gaining access to sufficient practical and financial resources to promote or continue their education. Several women had to withdraw from courses. Lack of resources also prevented young care leavers from continuing their education, as they needed to work and support themselves. For some participants, teachers, social workers and significant adults from the social network provided resources, which included equipment, transport, formal and informal tutoring, and attending significant events in place of the family. For some, occasional access to additional funds from school or welfare agencies provided the capacity to stay in school or courses. All the women had received practical support at one time or another, but financial support was not always forthcoming and delayed education significantly for some. Tessa received both financial and material support from school and a social worker, which helped her to stay in school and later complete university assignments: I had an old … computer. I got it from the social worker who found the accommodation for me. It was about Year 11—she gave me a really old computer that was still running on DOS. But it served the purpose; I can type up and print assignments, so that was what I was using [while at university] … and The student welfare officer at school was hugely instrumental in making sure that I didn’t have to worry about a whole bunch of things like text books and school uniform. Those sorts of things that, if I had to pay for those things, I couldn’t have been able to afford it. Mila commented: ‘And my foster mum encouraged me to go and do a TAFE course and she even paid the fee.’ While most children and young people in Western society assume the resources for an education will be available to them, these women could make no such assumption as a result of being in the care system. Thus, when the resources were found, it was considered remarkable. Personal factors There were two personal factors that contributed to achieving education: resilience and motivation. Resilience If ‘resilience’ is regarded as the self-righting capacity of people to spring back from exposure to adversity and other environmental stressors (Gilligan, 2006; Daniel, 2010), then some women certainly demonstrated strong resilience, including the ability to advocate for themselves in relation to education. With regard to education, specifically, some women showed resilience by completing school and university education despite numerous barriers. Others showed resilience during their later return to study by persevering against difficult life circumstances and academic challenges arising from fundamental educational deficiencies. Heather’s narrative demonstrates how her resilience helped her to perform well in education. Since entering care at fourteen, Heather lived with five foster families between Years 10 and 12. When she was in Year 12, she told her social worker that she did not want to keep moving because she wanted to prepare for the Year 12 exams. Heather explained: I knew what I wanted to do—I wanted to do social work. I was really clear about that and I knew what subjects I had to do. So I wanted to do my exams well and did not want to keep moving. My social worker had to put an ad on the radio: ‘We’ve got this 16 year old girl who is doing her HSC [Year 12]. She needs a stable home. Is anyone interested in providing her with a home?’ So I lived with this particular family [found through advertising] until I finished my HSC. Motivation Given the severe adversities experienced, the women could not have achieved, academically, had they not possessed strong motivation. They believed in the value of education as a form of legitimation. As adults, they were also now able to articulate motivation for education as a pathway out of poverty—of their families of origin, sometimes also of their foster-care families, as well as when caring for themselves as young adults. The motivation for academic achievement was such that some women, unable to finish their degree at the first attempt, went back years later and completed it on their second or even third attempt: A big driving force for me was that I didn’t want to be poor. ... So I knew that I had to get a job that paid well and one that gave me economic independence so that will mean having to do a degree (Heather). I was trapped in poverty. I saw education as the way out. And I still believe that, I believe that education is the key out of poverty (Moira). I think that … something about education—it gives you legitimacy as a human being … I think it’s a driver because it legitimises me—an education is one way of legitimising or giving you authority (Doreen). Discussion In the past, children in care were frequently ‘trained’ for employment in gendered roles (Van Krieken, 1991), with boys expected to undertake labouring jobs and girls in domestic roles, though there is no documented evidence of educational outcomes. Some of the women in this study were subject to such expectations of low academic achievement. However, the experiences of the women in this study demonstrate that social and societal, as well as personal, factors contribute to the educational attainment of children in care. The promotion of education for children in OOHC thus needs to be viewed from an ecological perspective which addresses both individual characteristics and environmental ones. Given the feelings of instability and insecurity inherently associated with being in OOHC, children entering care are particularly vulnerable and need social and physical environments enriched with protective factors in order to become resilient and motivated students. This study clearly showed that a significant adult who values and promotes learning is vitally important to children in care both receiving, and understanding the value of, an education. Some women’s experiences demonstrated that just one adult can do this. However, there is evidence suggesting many children in care do not develop a psychological bond with an adult (Barber and Delfabbro, 2009; Fernandez, 2010) and this is of great concern. Actively preserving existing ties with parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers, family friends, parents of friends or any other caring adults would be the first option for ensuring these children have a caring adult in their lives as identified by Barth (2009) and Maluccio and Ainsworth (2009). However, for those who come from extremely disrupted families, parental contact may not be an option or beneficial (Barth, 2009). Whether or not maintaining or re-establishing family connections is realised, carers can also become significant adults in the lives of children in long-term care, especially for those children who are rarely visited by parents (Whittaker and Maluccio, 2009), effectively making the carers the closest adults in their lives. Ensuring a good match of child to carer is therefore crucial in order to encourage the development of a warm relationship, especially for longer-term care. Some participants in this study, who believed their foster mothers instrumental in cultivating their aspiration to go to university, saw them as their own family. However, as found in other studies in the UK and Australia (Biehal et al., 2010; Fernandez, 2010; Townsend, 2011; O’Higgins et al., 2015), most women in this study had multiple placements and did not bond with a foster-carer. The point here is that workers might need to look to other individuals to find a supportive adult for children in care if there is no one within their existing relationships, and build this connection into the child’s social network. The significant adult does not necessarily have to live with the child, but needs the capacity to provide a warm relationship with the emotional and psychological support that promotes their capacity for education. Having a significant adult is also useful when children in care move to independence, especially for those who move at sixteen years of age—a trend in the OOHC population. A lack of adult guidance during young people’s transition to independence can lead to negative outcomes, including failure to complete education (Riley and Masten, 2005; CLAN, 2007). Although two women in this study had had caring foster mothers, they moved to independence soon after they turned sixteen because they wanted to break away from the comings and goings of foster siblings. However, they still maintained close relationships with these foster mothers, who consistently encouraged them to complete schooling and take up higher education. Resilience and motivation are also critical factors for children in receiving an education. As was the case with the participants in this study, some children in care possess resilience, both in general and in terms of educational achievement, whilst others may need the support of adults and their environment to help build resilience (Gilligan, 2006). As resilience can be fostered in children by reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors in their social environment (Rutter, 2009), the care environment needs to be enriched to foster resilience and educational opportunities. Weiner’s (1992) motivation theory purports that emotion plays a key role in the determination of patterns of motivation, with students more optimistic about future success if they attribute their failure to lack of effort as opposed to a lack of ability. Learned helplessness and abandoning of tasks rather than increasing effort is, Weiner (1992) suggests, because of attributing failure to a lack of ability. This is precisely what most women who left school early and returned to study later in life in this study did; they gave up on learning because they saw their failure to understand and successfully complete schoolwork as a lack of ability. Thus it becomes imperative that adults involved with children in care avoid negative commentary about the lack of, or slow, academic achievement of children, as this is de-motivating through diminishing already low self-esteem and confidence. As was the case with half the women in this study sample, many children in OOHC leave school early. The women in this study who left school early disliked going to school stating reasons such as a lack of academic support in the class to aid their understanding, together with the stigma associated with being in care. As reported in a number of research studies, children currently in care also experience these issues (CREATE Foundation, 2006; Owusu-Bempah, 2010). These women’s experiences indicate that keeping children in care at school means meeting their individual learning needs, as well as offering a social environment free from bullying and stigma. School is a very important place for these children, not only education-wise, but in contributing to their resilience. It gives them opportunities to develop pro-social friendships, take part in extra-curricular activities, and learn social and problem-solving skills (Masten, 2006; Stein, 2006a, 2006b). Conclusion The limitations inherent in such a small-scale study make it difficult to generalise the results to the population of children in OOHC in Australia or beyond, especially as these women lived in care many years ago. However, it was evident here, as in other studies, that the education of these children is hampered by barriers which are still present today across Western countries, at least. However, there are many ways in which adults can contribute to a successful educational outcome for children in OOHC. One critical factor is the need for at least one adult in children’s social networks who consistently promotes the value of education and provides emotional and psychological support when the child is struggling with educational demands. Children in care also need to be provided with practical and financial support and, if there are no relatives or carers committed to their well-being, it is important for the responsible professionals to provide or arrange such support. Personal characteristics such as resilience and motivation also play a significant part in achieving an education. Therefore, it is very important to provide these children with opportunities to build resilience and develop their motivation. Resilient and motivated children in care are highly likely to gain an education which, in turn, helps them to transit into a successful adulthood. 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