education

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Children and young people in care

For my dissertation topic, I decided to focus on the area of ‘academic achievement of children and young people in care’, and try to discover if looked-after children and young people are being failed by the system. I became interested in this area as I have came across many different reports from various agencies and also from the media that education of young people in public care is a cause for concern. For me to do my literature review I will carry-out research from different academic articles which is relevant to my dissertation title, I will describe and analyse the knowledge which exists within these articles which will help me identify the scope and key issues surrounding my title.

With reference to Jackson and Simon 2005, ‘Children who grow up in local authority care, ‘looked-after’ under the Children Act 1989, are 4 times more likely than others to require the help of mental health services; 9 times more likely to have special needs requiring assessment, support or therapy; 7 times more likely to misuse alcohol or drugs; 50 times more likely to wind up in prison; 60 times more likely to become homeless, and 66 times more likely to have children needing public care’. These are all huge issues which do affect individuals in the public care sector. One way to overcome many of these problems is ‘education’, if these individuals were getting the right educational outcomes and qualifications it would provide them with a better quality of adult life. ‘Each step up the educational ladder is associated with improvements in health, both mental and physical; employment, income, housing, family life, absence of additional problems and lower risk of involvement with the criminal justice system’, (Jackson and Simon, 2005).

Jackson and Mc Parlin 2006, ‘argue that the poor outcomes for individuals who have spent time in care as children can be confidently linked to educational failure, and that the care and education systems must bear a heavy responsibility for this’.

Pre-care experiences can play a massive part in depressing attainment, but also the outcome of certain experiences when children get removed from their families can cause a huge impact in their lives. ‘Teachers often know nothing or very little of the child’s history and the training they receive do not equip them to understand the care system or to manage the behaviour of looked-after children, (Comfort, 2004). Pithouse et al 2002, accept that ‘carers urgently need more training and support, including advice from psychologists, but point out that the overused term ‘challenging behaviour’ obscures a wide variety of problems arising from the children’s previous experience of life in chaotic and neglectful households and the uncertainties and disappointments associated with being in care’.

Many children entering care, do so over the age of 10, and may only be spending a short time in care. ‘Consequently, a child’s pre-care experience is one of the most important influences on their journey through care’ Hannon et al 2010. No matter what background a child in care has, they must be giving the same chance as any other child to make the most of their talents and potential. For this to be achieved schools can help by boosting a child’s health and well-being, by mounting self confidence and self esteem, as educational outcomes are powerfully influenced by a child’s emotional, mental and physical health.

Evans 2003, draws attention to the vulnerability of looked after children in regard to poor general life outcomes. The focus on the education of looked-after children has viewed educational attainment as an outcome in itself, and also as a factor which has a significant impact on the other areas of life, for example, employment and access to further education. It talks about how more than 20 years ago Rutter, in his review of cycles of deprivation he argued that, ‘successful schooling was one expedient way for children to escape from social disadvantage’ (Rutter 1976). Poor educational attainment is identified as a contributory factor and information is provided on both cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. Concerns do not only focus on cognitive outcomes directly. School exclusion and non-attendance are associated with disadvantage and that children being looked after feature disproportionately among truanting and excluded pupils.

‘The contributory factors suggested to account for the low level of attainment of looked-after children at GCSE related to their pre-care experiences; low self-esteem, special educational needs, poor school attendance, disrupted schooling while in care, and disruption in care placements’ (Garnett- 1994).

When reading this article I understand that in term of educational outcomes, slow progress is being made, a great more needs to be happen if the life chances of looked-after children are to be comparable with children who continue to live with their families.

With regards to this article I did find data which states that from recent figures show slight improvement but Conservative Party accuse government of failing most vulnerable pupils. This is a newspaper article and is called, ‘Just 14% of children in care get five good GCSE’s’, April 2009, written by Anthea Lipsett and published on www.guardian.co.uk. Official statistics released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families on 30-04-09 show that there is a wide gap between looked-after children’s grades and those of other children, just a week after MPs criticised the government’s failure to protect children in care. The article stated that ‘only 14% of children in care for a year or more obtained at least 5 A*-C grade GCSEs or GNVQs in 2008, compared to 65% of all children. A total of 12% missed at least 25 days of school and 1% were permanently excluded’, Lipsett 2009. The Conservative Party accused the government of failing looked-after children, Tim Loughton, the shadow children’s minster, said: ‘By not helping these vulnerable young people achieve basic qualifications, we are leaving them yet another mountain to climb’. Loughton also stated that the Conservative Party would consider setting up new state-funded residential academies to help children in care fulfil their potential. This article has shown me that the Conservative Party have realised that it is important for the government to put in place ways in which looked-after children are helped to achieve higher qualifications.

I came across an article on www.everychildmatters.gov.uk, called ‘Improving the Educational Attainment of Children in Care (Looked-after Children), published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families- 2009. Within this it also states how children in care are being failed by the system in terms of their educational outcomes and again what local authorities can put in place to maximise these, they set out their approach in detail, and they recognise that other ways will contribute to the success of individual children and young people as well- and that tackling wider barriers to learning will be important. However, getting that basic approach in place will make that possible, and will on its own transform learning and achievements for many children and young people.

Although there is a lot of information on individuals who were in care that left school with every little or no qualifications, we can’t forget that there are a small number of individuals who do obtain qualifications and go on to further education. Pearl and Jackson 2002 looks at research carried out over the past 20 years which shows that children in public care fall behind at school, seldom achieve good qualifications, and are much less likely than their peers to go on to further or higher education. It does however state that a small minority of looked-after children do well academically.

In this paper it examines the opinions of 38 high-achieving young people who spent at least a year in residential or foster care on what they think are the best ways to enhance the educational experience of looked after children. This study focused on a subsample of participants selected on the basis of their attainment of A-level passes or the equivalent. The 38 ex-care people who were selected to attend an interview and asked questions on their family, care, school, higher education and career experiences, and all were asked on their personal advice and recommendations on how social work and care practice could be improved, to help enhance the educational experiences of children in care. All respondents were asked, ‘what they felt should be done to improve children’s in care to do well in school?’ Nearly all 38 people stressed the importance of ‘normalisation’ in children’s day-to-day lives. Also found from the sample that; the importance for a child to receive positive encouragement from significant others, lack of encouragement by residential staff and many foster careers, the importance of having a good relationship with their social worker, attending school regularly and the importance of continuity, they stressed the need to overcome negative stereotypes of looked-after children, startling lack of practical resources in children’s residential homes, school support and encouragement for higher education, and about having someone who they trusted and could speak to with problems or just when they are feeling down.

I found this article to be a great help in understanding the importance of my title, as it had included information from different people who had been put in care but had escaped what is the negative stereotype of looked-after children and had became high-achievers, it had a particular force and urgency coming from people who have firsthand knowledge of the many obstacles to educational attainment within the care system, and who have succeeded in overcoming them. The article concludes that the view of these thoughtful and resilient individuals should be taken seriously and translated into improvements in policy and practice.

In order for each child and young person in care to reach their full academic and life potential, it is important that their teachers, social workers and carers work together to obtain this. One way in which they could do this is by using a ‘Personal Education Plan’, were it gives the student the opportunity to say how they feel personally school is going and what they expect to get out of it. Hayden, 2005, looks at research into these Personal Education Plans (PEPs) for children in care in one large local authority in England. In 2000 PEPs were introduced by guidance from the Department for Education and Employment and Department of Health. Two years after this guidance was published research for this fieldwork began.

Hayden wrote,

Research findings show that although social services staff and teachers are critical of specific aspects of PEPs, they have helped to raise the profile of the educational needs of looked after children in the local authority studied. They provided a forum for social work and education professionals to meet in the interests of particular children. Highlighted problems relate to practical issues: ensuring social workers and teachers feel able to fulfil their expected roles in relation to the education of looked after children; making the system focus on meeting the needs of children as well as practitioners; difficulty in meeting specified timescales; more meaningful, constructive and sensitive involvement of children in the process of producing and reviewing PEPs’ (2005)

I have found a range of different academic articles which I looked at within this assessment, which clearly points out that yes children and young people in care are being failed by the system, regards to their educational outcomes. Government have set in place ways to help individuals in care to perform to their best at school, but sometimes this does not always work, a lot more has to be done to improve this problem in the UK. It is necessary for teachers, social workers and carers to work together to ensure the best for the individual. I found that ‘normalisation’ in everyday life can be the key to succeed in education for people in care.

Word Count- 1,968

Module: Recent Social Policy Research

Module Code: SOP523J1

Essay Title: Literature Review on- Academic achievement of children and young people in care, and are they being failed by the system?

Word Count: 1,968

Lecturer: Goretti Horgan

Student: Charlene Mullan

Student ID: B00446265


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