Factors Associated With Low Academic Achievement Social Work Essay
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The academic achievement of looked-after children is dramatically lower than their peers. This dissertation reviews literature in relation to the factors associated with low academic achievement and evaluates whether current policy in relation to the education of the looked-after population addresses the identified areas of risk. Consideration was given to two main stances in relation to the failings of the care system and the previous life experiences of looked-after children. Specific area's of interest was the impact on maltreatment and disorganised attachment in relation to educational attainment. This was associated with the high number of children within the care system who have experienced maltreatment and inconsistent care from their biological parent(s).
The purpose of the review was to identify if the needs of looked-after children are met in current services and recommend improvements. The current guidance in relation to the promotion of looked-after children appeared to neglect the impact of previous experience as a barrier to education. Where this is neglected in practice there is evidence that a child will continue to struggle in a education setting. The importance of improving the academic achievement of looked-after children is linked to better life outcomes.
1.1 Research Question
The aim of this dissertation is to explore literature and research with regard to the factors that impact on the educational attainment of looked after children (LAC) and what is the best way to support them through their education to reduce future risk.
"It is generally recognised that education is the key to social integration and that conversely, lacking education carries a high risk of long-term unemployment and social exclusion" (Jackson, 2010)
A looked after child is defined as a child who is under the statutory supervision of a local authority. This includes all children who are subject to a care order (Children Act 1989, section 31), interim care order (Children Act 1989, section 38) or emergency protection order (Children Act 1989, section 44). A child can become looked after for a number of reasons including neglect, abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) as well as due to family breakdown which has led to them being unable to remain in their home. In the UK there has been a steady rise in the number of children in care since 2007 (Graph 1).
Graph 1: DfE: Children Looked After by Local Authorities in England (including adoption and care leavers) - year ending 31 March 2011
2010/2011 saw the highest number of looked after children since 1987 with 65,520 children in care on 31st march 2011 (Department for Children, 2011). As the number of children in care increase the concern with regard to their outcomes is becoming more important than ever. Due to their experiences and the impact these may have, looked-after children are arguably one of the most vulnerable groups in society (Berridge, 2012).
1.2 Responsibility of the Local Authority
When a child becomes looked after the Local Authority becomes their 'Corporate Parent' and has parental responsibility to meet the needs of the child including their educational needs. This is a duty under the Children Act (1989) (as amended by the Children Act 2004) which states it is :-
"The duty of a local authority under subsection (3)(a) to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child looked after by them includes in particular a duty to promote the child's educational achievement."(Children Act, 2004)
The UN convention on the Rights of the Child also highlights the requirement for education to be available and accessible to all children, emphasising the importance of meeting specific need to ensure they meet their full potential. This identifies the significance of education on future outcomes of a child and how, in practice, education should always be considered a factor of importance. In the past, it can be argued, that this is not something that has always been done. By ignoring the educational attainment of Looked-after Children, this group of children begin adulthood in an already disadvantaged position which can go on to impact their entire life.
1.3 Background information - Review focus
There has been strong evidence for a number of years that Looked-after Children are not expected to achieve academically (REFS). The UK Government has been reporting Looked-after Children educational statistics since 2000 which has provided insight into the startling attainment gap between looked-after children and their peers. In 2011 32% of looked-after children obtained 5GCSE's at grade A*-C compared to 78% of the general schooling population. While it is recognised that this is a considerable increase from 2007 (16.5%) it is acknowledged that the gap between attainment of looked-after children and their counterparts has actually widened from 44% to 46%. This indicates that although there has been improvement in terms of the figures, there is still a major difference with regard to results. This difference is reflected throughout testing from key stage 1 testing up to GCSE. The publication of these results over the last 10 years appears to have instigated a wave of research concerned with why we seem to be failing our looked-after children educationally as well as increasing political interest. However, despite this increased interest, there still appears to have been little improvement with the gap seeming to increase.
1.4 Current Perspectives
This dissertation will explore factors that have been identified to impact on the Education of Looked-after Children while also considering what these findings could indicate for Social Work practice. There are currently a number of different perspectives in terms what impacts on the educational attainment of Looked-after Children. The first perspective, and one that has historically been recognised by Local Authorities, is that it is the life experiences of the child that impacts on achievement. There is a common consensus that looked after children will perform less well academically than their non-looked after counterparts. It is understood local authorities have accepted little or no responsibility for the educational failure of looked after children and have instead blamed the disadvantaged backgrounds of the children (McClung, 2008). However, this would lead to question, what was being done to address the stress and trauma a Looked-after Child may have suffered. There is substantial evidence that trauma and neglect in childhood will impact on a child's social, emotional and behavioural development (Schumacher et al , 2001; Hildyard et al, 2002). It would be naive to think that these issues are resolved when a child is removed from the situation and attention must be given to the longer term effects of this. Specific attention will be placed on the impact of maltreatment on education. It is also recognised that maltreatment in childhood can lead to attachment issues and particular interest will be placed on the effect of poor attachment and educational experiences.
Attention must also be given to the other common characteristics of this group and how these may impact on their educational results. Nearly a quarter of children in the looked after system have a special educational need (SEN) compared to 3% of overall school population (Berridge, 2007). Thought also needs to be given to the high number of social disadvantages which are prevalent in this group such as poverty, unemployment, lone parenting, living in deprived area's and how these can go on to impact on development. These are all factors that must be taken into consideration when discussing educational outcomes as it is recognised that their combination can increase the risk of underachievement.
The second perspective provides evidence that the poor educational achievement of looked after children is more related to weaknesses within the care system (Jackson, 1999). Maxwell et al (2006) identified the four principal causes for the educational under achievement of looked after children as placement instability, poor school attendance, lack of sufficient support and encouragement within placement and lack of adequate support with emotional, mental and physical health and well- being. These factors place the accountability for poor performance with the care system as it is implied that these are area's that could be addressed. Could it be possible that the lack of recognition in terms of the failings of the care system could be why it seems that this is a situation that has been overlooked for a number of years?
The question whether the care system is at fault or have the effects of neglect/trauma the child have suffered and previous life experience's been underestimated may be too simplistic (Berridge, 2012) as this implies that is fault lies only with one or the other. It is difficult to believe, with the often traumatic and disadvantaged experiences of Looked-after Children, that this does not significantly impact on their outcomes. However, it is acknowledged that it remains responsibility of the local authority to address these issues as their corporate parent, providing support and intervention based on each individual child's needs to enhance opportunities (Department for children schools and families, 2010). When considering the impact of being in care on the child it is important to consider what is in place to address the difficulties a child may have and if these are lacking it becomes clear that the resources available are clearly not doing enough to support these children.
Thought must also be given to the education system and the accountability they have in ensuring that a child receives the education that they are entitled to. It appears historically that the education system has taken responsibility for the outcomes of looked after children.
Taking into consideration the identified research findings in relation to factors that impact the education attainment of looked after children the review will go on to examine the current guidance, Promoting the Educational Achievement of Looked after Children (Department for children, schools and families, 2010) and identify if these factors have been addressed sufficiently or are there areas of weakness that are outstanding. The value of this review is the recommendations may potentially improve the educational outcomes for Looked-After Children.
The review of policy will aim to identify if there are conflicts of ethics for practitioners taking into consideration the HCPC codes of practice (2012). It is difficult to believe that social work practitioners are not putting the needs of their service users first, but there may be restrictions in terms of the guidance they are following and the expectations of their employer. It is widely agreed that Social workers are currently restricted by the amount of bureaucracy in their work (Munro, 2011) therefore, it will be of interest to discover if this is an area where the specific guidance is more of a hindrance rather than a help. When considering this attention must also be placed on the current economic position and cuts in resources which are out of practitioners hands. The review includes primary research, secondary research and policy that have been produced in relation to this topic.
2 Purposes and Approach
2.1 Search Strategy
The search strategy for the literature identified has included academic search engines using the following search terms: - Neglect and Educational outcomes, Education and Care, Looked after children and Education, Attachment and education.
With regard to text contained in Northumbria University's library collection I used the NORA search engine using the same search terms. This allowed for further sources of information and was also used to direct me towards other appropriate authors and journal articles.
The inclusion criteria for this search was that the articles were journal articles, written in English published between January 1990 to July 2012. Although the aim of this literature review includes an examination of the current system and guidance in England I did not exclude research from other countries as this information would allow an understanding of general trend for looked after children. This literature provided an insight into the impact and outcomes of Looked-after children which I was then able to apply to the UK specifically.
Following the search of electronic databases I was able to identify some of Journals (NAMES) that had published a number of articles so I moved on to look at these specifically and systematically. I additionally searched articles and reference lists to identify and further pieces of work that would match my search criteria.
I searched online relevant Government departments and voluntary organisations (Bannardo's and NSPCC) for information with regard to policy, guidance and information/statistics and the media to gain an insight into their perception of the care system and education. The information was all published and in the public domain.
3 Factors known to impact on Education
Before looking specifically at the factors that impact the education of looked-after children it is important to gain an understanding of factors that are known to impact on education of the general population. This gives recognition to the fact that looked-after children are part of the general population and their looked after status is only one element of them. This will provide a context when investigating the outcomes of looked-after children.
In 2009 the Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) published a report "Breaking the link between disadvantage and low attainment: Everyone's business", to identify factors that were impacting the educational gap of individuals with the aim to improve experiences from those deemed in higher risk groups. The emphasis was the importance of educational achievement and improving future life outcomes. The report highlighted the link between social disadvantage and educational achievement.
The DCSF (2009) identified that attainment gaps were linked to the child's family background (Social Factors), their individual characteristics and educational factors. It is recognised that these factors are often linked and compound on another in terms of outcomes (Diagram 1).
Diagram 1: This model indicates the links between individual, social and educational factors
It is widely reported that a variety of social factors can affect educational experiences. This includes parent educational background and experiences, household income, demographic features. In terms of familial impacts it was recognised that parental achievement and their own expectation of their child's attainment was crucial to the child's own aspirations and expectations. Burgess et al (2001) found that family had the strongest influence with regard to educational outcome and there were significant links between educational achievement and family background. It has also been established that there is a positive correlation between parental occupation, parental attainment and levels of achievement in their children. Moreover, children who come from homes where there are 2 parents tend to attain at higher levels (Youth Cohort Study, 2005). This leads to increased risk with regard to children who live in single parent families.
The academic achievement of parents is an important feature in relation to the outcomes of their children. Children who have parents who are professionals and are educated to at least A level standard are less like to underachieve than children who parents have routine occupations, are unemployed and/or have no educational qualifications. This has been corroborated in the work of Smyth and
McCabe (2000) who have determined that the effect of social background is apparent in relation to both the level of education reached and academic performance at various stages within the educational system.
Family income and deprivation has also been linked to poor achievement. Nicaise (2000) demonstrates that the poorest children fail and that large numbers of them end up in the least well performing schools and that through their school experiences they score extremely low in terms of numeracy and literacy. It has also been determined that they leave school with few qualifications (Nicaise, 2000). The vicious circle of social exclusion then continues, because uneducated young people become the first victims of unemployment and poverty (Nicaise, 2000).
An explanation for the lower academic achievement of children from lower classes could be that working class parents have different values on education or have different expectations of it. Whilst it is acknowledged that the majority parents want the best for their children, working class parents may not automatically expect certain outcomes in the same way that middle class parents do based on their own experiences (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2004). Working class parents may have less personal knowledge, fewer skills and ability to support their children effectively. This may also impact the aspirations of the child due to the environment the child lives lacking a role model within their immediate families who have succeeded in education (DCSF, 2009).
In respect of Individuals' Characteristics, DCSF (2009) were able to establish that underachieving pupils were disproportionately from lower social classes and were thought to get caught in a cycle of underachieving. It was also determined that there was a gender gap between boys and girls but that there was very little variation when gender and social class were considered in conjunction. There was also a link between ethnic groups in relation to achievement. Children who had Chinese and Indian ethnic backgrounds performed at a higher level than all other ethnic groups.
There are a number of educational circumstances that can increase the risk of poor outcomes. This includes the type of school the child attends, low levels of attendance and exclusion. School is the main meeting place for children from different social backgrounds and for many children it is their first experience of socialisation - or of exclusion and conflict (Nicaise and Smyth, 2000).
Attitudes and beliefs are developed and learnt from influences in individual's lives from family, teachers and the community. As attitudes to education are often learnt from a parent or community, it is a concern that this may become a cycle of underachievement based on low expectations. In a world where education is increasingly important to open doors into future life opportunities, if the expectation to achieve academically isn't there, then doors are closed for a range of future experiences which would benefit individuals, their families and community as a whole. This highlights the importance of raising aspirations through support, resources, and services for those who we know are most at risk and in historically hard to reach groups.
It must be recognised that these area's impact individuals differently but it is widely agreed that they compound each other and create a downward impact on education.
There is evidence that the looked-after children are commonly from deprived backgrounds where these factors are prominent. The DCSF (2009) report highlighted the extreme social disadvantage are often linked to the reasons the child entered the care system. Within the DCSF (2009) report it was determined that children from deprived backgrounds were more likely to have special educational needs and which correlates with the high number of Looked-after children that have SEN.
While it is recognised that the reasons children come into care vary greatly and it is understood that each situation is unique in its own way by gaining an understanding of the educational risks of the general population, it is possible to increase the level of understanding into the possible reasons why Looked-after children may face increased barriers to education based on their background and circumstances. This sets the position of looked after children in context and demonstrates the need to examine their experiences further. The remainder of this review concentrates on research and literature regarding the educational achievement of looked-after children.
Introduction to Looked After Children
It is difficult to generalise what we know about the looked after population and
it is recognised that the population is a highly heterogeneous group in terms of their characteristics. Children who are in care vary from new born babies to adulthood and therefore it must be acknowledged that when discussing research it is based on young people who have suffered common experiences while recognising no two situations will be the same (Hare and Bullock, 2006).
Despite the difference in experience there is evidence that there is a correlation between factors that are widely understood to impact on education and the backgrounds of Looked-after children. We know that a high number of children when entering care have experienced deprivation, poverty, lack of educational aspiration, lack of parental supervision, anti-social behaviour and other behavioural problems. It is recognised that these situations heighten risk with regard to outcomes.
These experiences although individual to each situation are recognised to specifically contribute to educational outcomes. Children in care have often been exposed to environments that have been detrimental to their development and due to this can impact on their achievement and outcomes even when they have been removed from the care of their parents. The review will go on to look at the impact of life experiences before care in more detail.
Experiences prior to Care
It has been discussed how there are a number of social factors that are common to the children in the care system and how these may impact on Education. This review will now discuss the range of needs of children in care based on their prior experiences and how this can impact on their educational experiences.
The circumstances and experiences of children entering care are varied can be categorised under the range of categories of need (see chart 2).
(Chart 2: Categories of Need (DfES, 2011).
These statistics provide an insight into the reasons that children are brought into care which enables the opportunity to focus on the most common features. In 2011 62% of children were looked after due to abuse or neglect.
It is recognised that there are a number of factors than can lead to the increased risk of children suffering this kind of maltreatment. These include parenting issues such as early parenthood, poor parenting skills, parental mental health/substance abuse, domestic abuse, social isolation and poverty (Black et al, 2001; Schumacher et al, 2001). It has already been identified that these are common experiences of looked after children but it is also recognised that not all children who experience this suffer maltreatment or become looked after. Where cases reach this point it is recognised that the child has suffered persistent neglect or significant harm which has led to them being unable to remain in the care of their parent(s).
Due to the previous experiences and the prevalence of children entering care due to suffering neglect and/or abuse, the impacts of maltreatment on outcomes must be considered in terms of development and the impact of this on educational attainment. Despite it being impossible to reflect the individual circumstances and impact of each case, in practice consideration must be given to evidence based research and findings to support professional judgement with regard to achieving the best outcomes for the child.
What is maltreatment?
Maltreatment is characterised by all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child's health, development or dignity (NSPCC, 2011). This can be displayed in a range of behaviours from a caregiver in terms of not meeting the child's needs and harming a child. It is recognised that maltreated children face a range of risk factors known to impair development (Schumacher, Slep and Heyman, 2001).
Linked to the social experiences of looked after children, it is recognised that the risk of maltreatment generally increases in relation to adverse circumstances (Meadows et al, 2011) which can include situations in relation to the child, adult, family or wider social and economic environment. Chronic Poverty, care giving-deficits, homelessness and parental psychopathology are all associated with neglect (Pelton, 1994). The experience of maltreatment can impact a child's physical and mental health, school performance and social interactions (NSPCC, 2011). This review will concentrate on the impact of maltreatment on development and how this can impact on educational outcomes.
Maltreatment and Education
There is a substantial amount of research that has found that maltreatment is associated with lower academic achievement (REFS). Kurtz et al (1993) conducted a study that investigated the academic performance of physically abused, neglected and non-maltreated children. They found that both groups of maltreated children (physically abused and neglected) achieved significantly lower results for language (p<.0082) and maths (p<.002) compared to the non-maltreated group. This type of effect has been found in subsequent research from children ranging from infancy to adolescence (Hildyard and Wolfe, 2002). In discovering evidence for the lower academic achievement of maltreated children, it poses the question with regard to how the specific impacts of neglect and abuse have been linked to poor educational outcomes.
A history of neglect from a young age has also been found to affect IQ which may have a significant impact on the educational ability of young people. Gowen (1993) found that children who received inadequate care scored lower one IQ measures. A longitudinal study conducted by Perez et al (1994) supports these finding when they compared 413 individuals who had been maltreated in childhood with 286 non maltreated children. The testing that gathered data on IQ and reading ability was carried out approximately 20 years after the abuse had taken place. They found that those who had been maltreated in childhood scored significantly less, with a mean score of one standard deviation less than the non-maltreated group.
Consideration must be given to the limitations of this study and it is important to consider additional factors that may have impacted on these results and should be controlled in future research. For example there evidence that the gender of individuals may impact results as Erickson et al (2002) found that neglected boys are more likely to have lower IQ scores than girls which may have impacted on Perez et al (1994) results as the control for gender was not indicated in the maltreated or non-maltreated group. We also know that traditionally the looked-after system has always held a marginally higher number of boys (House of Commons, 2012).
Despite not controlling for all contributing factors the results of Perez et al (1994) and Gowen (1993) provide some evidence of the possible long lasting impact of maltreatment in terms of intelligence level. This indicates the disadvantage this group of children may face when it comes to education prior to entering care. However, it is important to recognise that this is not always the case and that individual experiences and a child's own resilience in the face of adversity lead to individualised impact.
Gowen (1993) also identified that a history of neglect can also predict problems in expressive and receptive language due to their previous experiences of limited interaction with their caregivers. This can be a barrier when forming relationships and play with peers which can go on to impact on social behaviour. There is evidence that neglected children tend to be socially withdrawn (Hildyard and Wolfe, 2002). This is supported in a study by Crittenden (1992) who compared the peer interactions of neglected, abused, abused and neglected, marginally maltreated and non-maltreated pre-school aged children. The study found that neglected children tended to more isolated during play and more passive and withdrawn with their mothers compared to the other groups. These result's support the work of a number of studies where findings revealed neglected children were more isolated and engaged in fewer social interactions than that of other children (Erickson et al, 1989; Egeland and Sroufe, 1981; Cameras and Rappaport, 1993). The lack of social interactions and engagement not only impacts on how a child develops socially but also on their ability to learn and gain understanding of the world around them.
Egeland (1991) found that neglected children had difficulty coping with the social demands of school. It is understandable that without the ability to develop and sustain effective support networks, a child will struggle with the stress and expectations of school life. There are also implications of maltreatment in terms of behaviour both in and out of the classroom. It is recognised above that children, as a result of neglect can display a range of behavioural difficulties. These types of behaviours may include attention seeking behaviour. Research provides evidence that an experience of long term maltreatment increases the risk of being socially disruptive in the classroom due to lack of boundaries and attention seeking behaviour (Howe, 2005). There is also evidence that neglected children may suffer from these particular behaviour problems throughout life, giving evidence to the longer term impacts of neglect. Research has shown that children who are exposed to poor family management practices are at greater risk of developing conduct disorders and anti-social behaviour. It is recognised that these behaviours can be a barrier to education as they not only distract the child from focusing on learning but they will not be tolerated in mainstream education leading to exclusion and/or referrals to alternative educational provision.
A child with unmet needs may display a range of difficulties which can impact on behaviour. In my own practice experience I have learned never to underestimate the impact of traumatic experiences and how a child may be affected by them longer term. As a practitioner it is important to be equipped with relevant research and theory to be able to gain an understanding of how situations can impact on an individual. This information can then be used to produce evidence based intervention to support and empower the service user.
When considering the impact of previous experiences on looked after children it is important to recognise the effect of emotional and physical harm can have in forming attachment to parents/care givers and the impact of attachment theory on development and behaviour. The term 'Attachment' in relation to attachment theory can be defined as a bond between an individual and attachment figure (Wilson et al, 2008). It is imperative to acknowledge that despite the circumstances of the child/young person entering care and that separation from family will be a stressful and traumatic time, it is the child's experience of a caregiver providing a safe and secure environment that is discussed in attachment theory. It is important not to confuse the attachment theory bond in terms of love and affection but instead it focuses on the innate function of promoting protection and security (Prior and Glaser, 2006).
Using attachment theory proposed by Bowlby (1969) it is possible to gain insight into what a child needs from their parents and the impact of an unavailable caregiver in infancy can have both in the short and long term. As Domasio et al (2001) reflected;
"When the caregiving relationship is persistently compromised so too is the future life of the child"
Attachment theory provides a theoretical framework that enables us to analyse and evaluate relationships across the whole life span with the belief that the attachment experiences in infancy will effect development into adolescence and adulthood.
Bowlby's (1969) original study examined how infants use their primary caregiver as a source of comfort and safety. As this appears to be an instinctive behaviour displayed by infants, Bowlby (1969) believed that the behaviour was biologically influenced and had evolved to protect the infant. When the infant is faced with a situation that causes feelings of distress it is assumed that the infant will seek protection from its primary caregiver. When a caregiver is responsive to an infant's needs the attachment enables the security for the infant to explore the environment safe in the knowledge that the caregiver remains accessible (Liebert and Liebert, 1998). This ability to explore while safe in the knowledge that the caregiver is available to comfort and protect in times of fear or distress enables the infant to develop their understanding of the world.
Original attachment theory is criticised as it seems to focus on the relationship between the infant and the mother based on an automatic maternal affection. The argument is that attachment is not biologically based in this way, but more based on the person who is able to meet the specific needs of the infant and the subsequent bond that is created. It is now strongly acknowledged that there may be a number of attachment figures the infant may use as a secure base such as a father or sibling, so attachment theory should not be limited to one person but look at the environment of the child (Field, 1996).
Another factor to consider when thinking about attachment are that there are individual differences with regard to the ability of using primary caregiver as a secure base and the impact if this is not available. This introduces the concept of different attachment styles. Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall (1978) developed a strategy for assessing the style of attachment using the "strange situation" experiment where they observed infants reactions when left in the presence of a stranger for a brief period. From these observations Ainsworth et al (1978) identified four types of attachment patterns; secure attachment, insecure attachment which included ambivalent and avoidant attachment style and disorganised attachment.
When a child is securely attached it is expected that when left for a period of time there would be signs of distress at the loss of their secure base, but happy and forgiving upon the caregivers return. Those who form a secure attachment use the primary caregiver as a secure base. The knowledge that there is a secure base to return to if there was anything that caused stress allows the infant to explore its environment in comfort and develop their own understanding of the world. As the infant matures, the exploration becomes more adventurous as the infant is internally aware that they have the support of the caregiver, regardless of whether the caregiver is physically present.
Ambivalent, avoidant and disorganized attachment patterns are characterised as being insecure attachments. When there is absence of a secure attachment there is a question over the security and reliability of the caregiver. This impacts how the infant reacts to being separated from them and how they are able to explore as there is unreliability of the caregiver being able to protect them. An insecure attachment indicates that the needs of the child are not being met by the caregiver (Schofield, 2002). When an infant is living in an environment where there is a lack a caregiver(s) as they are unavailable or unwilling to provide security and protection then it is likely that a child will develop an insecure attachment and be unable to explore. Where a child has been unable to form a secure attachment with a caregiver due to maltreatment, it is recognised that there is potential to form a disorganised attachment. This is due to the inconsistent response from the caregiver which makes it impossible for the child to develop organised responses to situations. Research has evidenced that there is links between poor parenting and disorganised attachment increasing risks for disadvantaged future outcomes (Zeanah et al, 2003).
A characteristic of maltreatment is where a parent is unable to provide a safe and secure environment for their child or is the source of fear. Children who have suffered maltreatment have been found to display higher frequencies of insecure attachment (Crouch and Milner, 1993; Wolfe, 1993). Attachment theory gives us an understanding of how these experiences may have impacted on the individual's life and behaviour (Bowlby, 1980). If a caregiver is not available to protect the baby or is the source of fear, the baby becomes deregulated and in order to survive must find a way to deal with their feelings - this can be the start of demonstrating "difficult" behaviour (Hughes, 2002).
The evidence in respect of the impact of insecure attachments cannot be disregarded in relation to the educational experiences of looked-after children. There are a range of behaviours that have been linked to insecure attachments. During early childhood, this type of attachment has been linked to aggressive externalising behaviour (Moss et al, 1996). The lack of a secure attachment may impact on the child's ability to forge a sense of identity or develop trust and empathy. Consideration much also be given to the trauma of attachment disruptions and how these behaviours can be exhibited while in the care of their parent(s) and also following removal. Hodges et al (1999) Observed how the behaviour of children who have been taken into care has been likened to serious trauma.
Attachment and Education
Insecure attachment is recognised to negatively impact on a child's development but how does this effect a child's education? Due to the often chaotic backgrounds of looked-after children it is impossible to discount the impact of attachment difficulties. Parental unavailability is a common feature within the neglect and abuse group which is compounded by the eventual removal of the child from their home. This can go on to lead to a number of difficulties the children experience during their time in school.
In terms of the impact of attachment disruptions on education, Kobak et al (2001) conducted a study which considered the effect of attachment disruptions on severe adjustment problems. Kobak (1999) defined attachment disruption as being prolonged and unplanned separation that impacts on the child's view of their caregiver's availability. For this research the groups of males (9-11years old) were separated into groups based on their risk for adjustment difficulties and categorised according to the severity of major separations from their biological mother. It was found that children with the most severe emotional disturbances had also experienced the most significant caregiver disruptions. The behaviour displayed from those children had meant that they are no longer able to remain in mainstream education and are placed in special education provision. Disruptive behaviour is often a key indicator of severe emotional disturbance where aggression and hostility is often aimed at teachers and peers. This behaviour also impacts on the child's ability to concentrate, respond to discipline and relating to peers (Mattison et al,1992).
It is important to recognise that the experience of insecure attachment does not only impact the behaviour of an individual but also impacts on interaction and the ability to form relationships with others (Howe and Fearnley, 1999). These difficulties can the go on the affect how the child performs and adapts to school life. Often, emotionally neglected, children will have learned from their relationships with their primary caregivers that they will not be able to have their needs met by others. This can impact a child's ability to accept warmth or help from others. The effect of this behaviour may cause teachers and peers not to offer help or support, therefore reinforcing the negative expectations of the neglected child (Erickson and Egeland, 2002). Lynch and Cicchetti (1992) alternatively found that children who had experienced attachment disruptions were more likely to seek help from teachers in a way that was deemed inappropriate or dependent. They found that this type of attention was stressful for teachers and led to less supportive interactions. Although these researchers have identified differing types of behaviours towards teachers, both acknowledge that children who have had insecure attachment seek attention from teachers but exhibiting attention seeking behaviours in a different way.
The impact of the teacher-pupil relationship based on stresses may impact how the teacher views the child and their behaviour. For example, Koback et al (2001) acknowledge that a limitation of their study was reliant extensively on teachers' report of the pupil. They felt that this may have been impacted by the teacher having a full awareness of the child's background and experiences which led to low expectations of the child; however, it may also have been affected by the teacher's relationship with the child based on how the behaviours made them feel.
An additional impact of insecure attachment within school is linked to difficulties in social interactions with peers. This can be exhibited in the form of lacking in confidence of social skills which can hinder building relationships (Goldman and Salus, 2003). This struggle can lead to the individual finding the expectation of social interaction within schools as stressful and thus impact the child's ability to cope with the school environment.
Early attachment theory focused heavily on attachment in infancy ending in puberty (Field, 1996), however, there is now supporting evidence that the effects of early attachment can now influence a lifetime (Howe, 2011). Despite the knowledge of the possible significant impact of insecure attachment, it is important to recognise when applying Attachment theory to individuals that it is based on individuals experience by gathering information from a range of available sources and that assumptions are not made. Howe et al (1999) cautioned that when using attachment theory in practice that consideration must be given to support that the service user may need in a non-judgemental way as individual situations may lead to different issues that need addressing. There is a risk when assumptions are made and intervention is not appropriate that this will lead to certain expectations of the service user's behaviour. When these assumptions are made the service user may fulfil these expectations, regardless of whether these are of a negative or positive nature (Belsky and Cassidy, 1994). However, unsurprisingly there is evidence that a high percentage of service users within social work who have experienced insecure attachments at some point in their life (Howe et al, 1999). As a social worker, there is a responsibility to be aware of this and ensure that intervention and support has a holistic approach and appropriate for the individual needs. The developmental issues that can be caused by insecure attachment can increase individual service user's is vulnerability therefore there is an focus when working with those individuals on promotion of healthy development and building healthy relationships. Iwaniec and Sneddon (2001) found that when there is appropriate support and intervention positive changes can be made.
When gathering information about the life of the child it is imperative that a thorough understanding is gained with regard to cause and effect of behaviour. This will not only give the workers the knowledge they require to identify and implement the most appropriate support but will also allow for other agencies involved, such as the school, gain an understanding with regard to why the child may have difficulties within school. This information also enables the child to gain an explanation of their own behaviour and why they may find it difficult to control. In mainstream education it is indicated that these behaviours are also misunderstood, which leads to difficulties within mainstream schools. The aim of education is to be inclusive to all. However, it is argued that this does not take the significant experiences, trauma and support needs of looked-after children into consideration. There are a high level of exclusions of looked after children from mainstream education. From a social work perspective, this leads to consideration of the child facing yet another rejection but consideration must be given to the perspective of the education system and teachers involved.
Care and Education Factors
As it has been identified, the prior experiences of children before entering care have a significant effect on how the child develops and their behaviour. It is recognised while reviewing this that children cope with trauma differently and some are more resilient than others. The purpose of the care system is to address the individual needs and support the child through their education with the aim of improving on the factors that have previously impeded their educational experience. Practice considerations must be given to the impact of previous experiences on development but it is important to ensure that this does not defeat the service user by having a lower expectation of them but enables intervention to be based on the needs of the individual. In relation to this it is crucial to examine the current system and how these needs are currently assessed and services provided. In the UK there is a legal obligation for parents to ensure that their children attend school from the age of 4-16(REF Education Act). When a child is taken into care, the local authority takes on responsibility as the corporate parent. As the corporate parent of Looked-after Children it is the local authorities' statutory duty to ensure that this is provided. Historically it appears that the expectation of educational achievement in LAC was low and that little importance or research had been focused on this area (Roy and Rutter, 2006).
Introduction to the Care System
It seems as though the historically the care system's aim may have been meeting basic and safety needs of the child by removing them from an environment where they were placed at risk. It is recognised that although this is an essential part of the care system, this should not be the only focus on care provision. The historical aim to meet physiological and safety needs may indicate how historically other areas have been undervalued and neglected or expectations may have been low. It is apparent when reviewing current policy guidelines and legislation that there have been significant changes in the care system over the years with the increased emphasis on the care system to provide the child with a nurturing environment to support the child to reach their best potential. Despite this, it is still the case that being in care reduces a child's life chances. Jackson (2008) highlights the vulnerability of this group in her findings of the young people who have been in state care as the most likely to suffer poor outcomes including early parenthood, health problems, depression and criminality.
Giving attention to the increasing number of children in care it is appropriate to review current care system and its aims. There are a number of different types of care settings for children (see graph.) The Majority of children are in foster placements. The aim of a foster placement is to provide a nurturing environment for the child to develop. It is imperative when providing care to a child to provide stability. Due to previous experiences and possible impact of insecure attachment of a large proportion of this group it is the responsibility of the care system to provide the care that was lacking in their family environment.
Types of Care
(DfE: Children Looked After by Local Authorities in England (including adoption and care leavers) -year ending 31 March 2011)
With 74% of young people living in foster care consideration must be given to the type of care that children receive and what research has found to support the best type of environment for a child to thrive. The Social Exclusion report (2003) identified the following 5 key issues impact on the education of Looked- after children:-
Exclusion/time out of education
Insufficient support with education
Carers not equipped to provide sufficient support.
Lack of support with emotional, mental or physical health and well-being.
It is recognised that foster care provides the most stable environment for a young person and if they are not moved, they are more likely to achieve academically. The reason for this is Foster Care provides the child with the setting most like a family where someone is able to support them with their education. It is acknowledged that where children perform well academically there has been at least one person who has championed them throughout their school career. This support and input appears imperative not only according to research but also from service user feedback. Banardo's (2005) conducted a study into their service user views on care and the responses indicated that young people felt that they would do better if they received encouragement by all professionals around them, not only their foster carers.
Roy and Rutter (2006) conducted a study on the impact of care continuity on early reading achievement dividing two groups of looked after children based on a range of factors. One group had experienced discontinuity in their long term institutional care environment, and the other had experienced high levels of continuity within a foster family. The groups were matched for age, gender and family histories and compared with a group of matched control children to ensure that these differences did not impact the results and allowed the focus to be on the type of care received. The study found high levels of inattention and over activity in the group who had been in long term institutional care which has been linked to problems in early reading. When the researchers analysed their results they concluded that not only is the type of care experiences linked to delays in reading but education can be significantly impacted if the care giver does not place importance of support on education. As a high proportion of looked after children are done so in a foster care, it is considered that this environment should continue to the nurturing home life required. It is recognised that this piece of research was conducted on a small scale and that there have been changes since as it was conducted prior to the specific duty within the Children Act (2004) in relation to educational achievement of looked after children to ensure that education is a focus during all types of placement. However, it is also startling when it is considered that this research is only 6 years old and prior to this there have been generations that have not received the support and encouragement needed to reach their potential.
It has been identified by research (REFS) how important stability is for Children in care. However, despite this (STATS) of children more placement. Stein (2005) indicated there are significant consequences of moving placements due to the children's previous experience in their previous family settings. This includes maltreatment, instability and family rejection. Where the care system does not provide a stable placement for a child there is a risk of further impact on their emotional well-being due to further rejection (Smith, 2008). These experiences can compound the already insecure attachments made and make it difficult for the child to develop healthy relationships for the future. So where the care system should be supporting and meeting the child's needs, what they are potentially doing is causing further damage. The impact of difficulty forming and maintaining relationships may impact on the child's chances to develop social, limiting their employment and friendship opportunities leading to isolation and limiting social competence (Smith, 2008). Ritchie (1996) found interpersonal difficulties in children who had experiences multiple placement moves.
When considering the impact of placement moves on education, consideration is given to moving schools. Flectcher- Campbel and Archer (2003) conducted a study of 377 young people and found 73% of the group had experienced at least 2 secondary schools during their time in care. It is recognised that this is a small sample, however, the findings are concerning and lead to considering the impact of a number of school moves has. There are the practical impacts of moving schools but also consideration needs to be given to the impact of further breaks in friendships and attachments, as well as any changes in curriculum which increases the workload (Smith, 2008). This shows how, a system in place to support and meet the needs of young people may actually be having the opposite effect when failing to provide stability.
Ritchie (1996) found that children who were placed in foster care or who had multiple caregivers had interpersonal problems which impacted on how they were able to relate to teachers, other adults and peers within an educational setting. It is understood that the level of support a child needs varies and it must be acknowledged that there are a number of children in the care system that do go on to achieve despite the impact of their previous circumstances and with the support of the system. However, unfortunately, there are a greater number of children who are affected by their experiences before and during care. It is the responsibility of the care provider and the Local Authority to meet the individual needs of each child and recognise the support that is required.
From the information above it appears that there are some changes that could be made within the care system to support young people in their education. However, it is recognised that this is not solely the responsibility of the care system and the Education system also have an important supporting role. To support a young person in education a multi-agency approach is required so all professionals involved are aware of the child's needs and how best to respond.
.With the number of impacting issues that have been identified in relation to the experiences and needs of looked-after children it would be quite easy to lay the responsibility solely at the social workers door. But when taking a holistic approach to a child and any support and intervention required, all who are involved have a responsibility to ensure that the best service is provided. Although the duty within the Children Act (2004) does not include school, guidance makes it clear that schools are closely involved with the education planning and arrangements. Schools have an integral part to place not only in terms of education but also in terms of support. They have contact with children on a daily basis and are therefore the best source of professional knowledge that can be used to identify what a child would benefit from educationally. Teaching is a profession where focus is on supporting a child to learn. To support a traumatised child to learn it is imperative that teacher's needs to understand what a child has experienced and the additional support that may be required (Kellie-Smith in Archer et al, 2003). It has already been acknowledged that Looked-after children are more likely to be excluded from education. This is increasingly linked to their behaviour. Schools have a responsibility to ensure that all children in their care are receiving an adequate education and it seems that the behavioural challenges of Looked-after children are often too much to for a mainstream school to cope with.
It is recognised that along with the responsibility of identifying the needs of a looked after child, a teacher is also in a position which has to consider the needs of a whole class. When looking at the representative percentage of looked-after children within a school comprising of a small minority the obligation of the teaching staff may be inclined towards the majority of pupils (Jackson and Sachdev, 2001). There may be conflict about what course of action would be best for the child and what would benefit the class. This is linked to the behaviours that have been identified previously that may be difficult to contain in a mainstream school and the disruption that this can cause. It is acknowledged historically that a high number of looked after children are more likely to be placed in pupil referral units (Galloway, 1994) and allocated to special needs schools even if their difficulties were deemed less serious than their peers (Gordon et al, 2000).
The problem with removing children from mainstream education is the alternative education can often exasperate existing problems (Harker et al, 2004). It is also evidenced that decisions to exclude children may purely be in a reaction of not being able to cope with the child but it is wondered what is actually attempted to support the child or if it is a case of purely passing the responsibility to another provider. During practice I have worked with a young person who has previously been excluded from mainstream education. He felt the behaviour was expected of him and there was no support or boundaries from teachers. Due to exclusion he was then out of education for a period where his behaviour became more out of control. This leads to question of the impact of exclusion as well as the lack of support when this does happen.
Teachers themselves have identified the challenging behaviour of Looked-after children as the most difficult element of dealing with children in care (Fletcher-Campbell et al, 2003). Teacher's attitudes towards children in care and their subsequent behaviour has been identified by children who are looked-after as impacting on how well they do in school. Service user feedback gained from Banardo's (2005) found that children in care felt that teachers attitudes impacted on their performance. Those who performed better described having a teacher who did not treat them as different and who had an understanding of their needs and offering unobtrusive help. The introduction of the virtual school head is hoped to offer children that support in terms of an understanding figure who will champion for them as required. It is recognised that overall, children in care require support and understanding during their time in school and not to have assumptions made based on their past or current circumstances.
There is evident historical conflict between the work of social workers and schools. Although both are services to promote children's ability and wellbeing, social workers are better equipped to deal with children who display problematic behaviours and also to have an understanding of why those behaviours are there, whereas a teacher's priority is the educational achievement of the child but also giving consideration to the wider impact on others in the class. To be able to work in a multi-agency fashion, both must be understanding and considerate of the others perspective to reach a joint plan. When considering the conflicting priorities of children's services and the education provider it is necessary to consider the pressures that have been placed by the local authority and central government. With the pressures of league tables and reporting of results specific to looked-after children, teachers may feel unable to support the child to reach the standard that is required. It is considered that this pressure may exasperate the situation and lead the school to 'give up'. There have been a number of projects focused on the education of looked after children such as Equal Chances(REF), Taking care of Education (REF) that have reported the needs and changes required to improve the education experiences of looked after children. It has been highlighted on the importance of all agencies involved working together. However, it is recognised that the implementation of the changes was a struggle when considering the division between social care and education services which led to them being unable to work jointly due to their competing priorities (Harker et al, 2004). There have been vast improvements within multi-agency working between education and children's services over the last few years with the aim of supporting looked-after children within education. Berridge et al (2008) also reported that professionals are working better together in terms of increased communication and liaison. Both carers and children in the looked-after system have reported the input of social worker liaising with other professionals as extremely valuable (The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People's Services, 2009).
After looking at the impact of experiences/individual factors, the influence of the care system and education system it is evident that there is a wealth of information that has identified possible factors that influence the education of Looked-after children. However, despite this knowledge the attainment gap between Looked-after children and their peers does not appear to be narrowing. The question from this is where and why are we still going wrong and what is not being addressed in support and guidance.
Current Guidance and Policy
This review has so far considered the individual, care and education factors that may impact on the educational achievement and has been able to identify the following:- (see Diagram 2).
Diagram 2: Factors that are linked to the cause of low academic achievement
There is evidence that these some of these factors (low expectations, instability, and lack of individualised support) can be present prior to entering care and during care. From this evidence it is now possible to investigate the guidance and policy produced to improve the educational experience of looked-after children and if these meet the needs of this specific group and address the needs that have previously been identified as a barrier within the care system.
It has been widely reported by the Government over the last decade that there is a startling the attainment gap between looked-after children and their non-looked after counterparts. The statistics produced annually by DfES provide an insight into the Educational results of Looked-after children and provide evidence for the widening gap between them and their peers. However, it is important to recognise the limitations of reporting statistics in this this way. The statistics represent a snap shot in time and do little to address the individual circumstances of the children. They report the number of Looked-after children who are eligible for the exams but fail to address the issue with regard to the number of looked-after children permanently excluded from education and those who may not be sitting their exams. There is also no comparison between the educational attainment of these children prior their care experience and therefore provide no evidence that the care system impeded educational outcomes. It may be that entering the care system did in fact improve their educational achievement but the damage from their previous experiences had already caused educational difficulties.
Improving the lives of children in care is a priority for the coalition Government as it is recognised that currently and historically, the outcomes of this group of children are poor (Education Committee, 2011). The current Government argue that the reason improvements were not made under the previous Labour Government is that children in care were not a priority (Education Committee, 2011). It could be argued that this does not appear to have been the case, and over the last 10 years, under the Labour Government; there h
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