Breaking down the barriers to education for young people in out of home care.
It’s been a tough year for students who have struggled with disruption to their education. Online classes, loss of connection to teachers and peers, and motivation difficulties have affected the mental health of many students. For most young people, these difficulties represent just a year out of their whole educational life, but many children and young people in out of home care continually deal with barriers that negatively impact their entire time at school.
This Friday 19 February is Care Day - the world’s largest celebration of the rights of children and young people with care experience. It is a time to focus on the resilience and achievements of young people in care and to ensure that they have access to the same opportunities and support as every other child and young person. It is also imperative to look at the inequalities young people in out of home care face and one of the main issues is education. While 40 per cent of the general population will study some form of higher education, for care leavers that figure is significantly lower — just 1 to 3 per cent.
27-year-old Tayla Ayliffe, who spent much of her teenage life in foster care and residential care, knows very well how difficult it is to remain focused on school work when everything around you is changing and feels insecure.
Being in care is tough, and often, the reasons kids come into care can have a traumatising effect which in turn impacts a young person’s ability to learn. If you don’t feel safe and you’re dealing with trauma, you’re not in a place where you can think about your future or concentrate on school work.
“Kids in care also battle with practical issues. One of my foster homes was so far from my school that I had to get up at 4.30am just to get to school on time – and even then, I’d sometimes be late."
“Often in residential care, other kids in the house are not interested in learning or doing homework and you have to be really focused to work through the distractions. That’s a huge ask from kids who are already coping with some significant issues,” Tayla added.
Supporting young people in care to connect with education, programs like the MacKillop Institute’s ReLATE, and the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare’s Raising Expectations, work with schools, colleges and universities to create safe, supportive and predictable environments, enhance educators’ understanding and responses to behaviour, and improve student learning and wellbeing outcomes.
Dr Robyn Miller, CEO of MacKillop Family Services, sees the consequences for young people who have disengaged with their education every day.
“Compared to their peers, young people leaving care are significantly less likely to complete high school and more likely to become parents at a young age. We know that higher education generally leads to better employment opportunities and greater earning potential which is why education is so important."
All too often education takes a backseat to other more urgent issues facing children in out of home care. Institutions like schools and universities need to be aware of the wider factors that impact young people in out of home care and their ability to learn.
Dr Miller added “Every year we do see a number of young people in out of home care complete Year 12 and continue education or training, but it’s not enough. We need supports such as ReLATE throughout the whole educational system to sustain a child’s link to learning and allow them to work at their pace.”
Many care leaver students experience significant social and economic barriers in going on to post-secondary study, not because they aren’t capable but because the support they need is not available. The Raising Expectations partnership has seen the number of care leavers rise in further or higher education across its three partner universities.
Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare said, "More must be done to address these barriers to enable every child and young person in care to be supported to aspire, access, and achieve in TAFE and Uni."
For Tayla, who is currently studying at University, it’s been sheer determination and will to succeed that’s driven her to gain further qualifications.
“I am at Uni now, but I I’m there as a mature-age student. I couldn’t have gone at 17 like so many other young people do. If schools and universities had a greater awareness of the challenges young people in out of home care face, they could build better supports to keep them engaged in school and pursue tertiary education."
I think that society’s awareness of the impact of out of home care on children and young people is where mental health and domestic violence was over 10 years ago. A lot of work has been done to raise awareness of those issues. Now we need to do the same thing for kids in care. We deserve it