New research finds being in care can ‘protect’ a child’s education

Children in long-term foster or kinship care have been found to outperform those children in need living with their families receiving social work support. These are the findings of the University of Bristol and the Rees Centre (University of Oxford) and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The first academic study of its kind, it looked into the educational outcomes of children in care and found that a child’s success at school is enhanced by the length and stability of their placement. Accordingly, children in residential homes fare less favourably on account of the level of placement change and school moves – the longer they are in care the better they do.

The researches estimated that by the age of 16, children living in foster care of kinship care achieved GCSEs of at least six grades higher on average compared to those living in other forms of care. They also found that children who entered care early, and had remained in the same placement for 12 month or more, could achieve five higher GCSE grades than children in need.

“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.”

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, said the research has delivered “clear agendas for policy-makers.” He said: “Perhaps most importantly, it uses this evidence to set clear agendas for policy-makers, those working in the education and care systems, and other 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.”

Professor Judy Sebba, Director of the Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education, Oxford University, said: “[The] longer the child was in foster care, the better they did educationally, particularly if they attend high performing schools. The findings also show the impact of school moves. We believe such moves should be avoided, particularly in the two years leading up to GCSE exams.”

This is important research, however, what the reporting of this study’s findings has failed to highlight is the influence of socio-economic factors in a child’s academic achievement. Children in long term care invariably have better access to the staples they need for effective study (computers, safe and healthy home environment and living above the poverty line rather than below it) and better schools. Add these factors to the mix and we get a greater understanding as how long term care placements combine to boost a child’s academic ability.