How well did children in state care do in the state education system 2016-17?

In South Australia in 2017, 57 per cent of all students in care were enrolled in Department for Education (DE) schools.

The Guardian’s latest report Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2008-2017, is now available.

The report explores how well the state school system is providing for children and young people in care.  It highlights a number of ongoing trends including:

  •  the proportion of children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools who identify as Aboriginal continues to be significantly higher than Aboriginal children and young people as a proportion of all children in DE schools (35.4 compared to 6.4 per cent in 2017).
  • there are lower rates of school absence for Aboriginal students in care compared to the overall population of Aboriginal students attending DE schools.
  • a greater proportion of all children and young people in care have learning disabilities compared to the overall DE student population, notably in speech and language skills.
  • the proportion of children and young people in care with an intellectual disability is nearly seven times, and those with a global developmental delay are almost five times that of the rate of disability in the overall DE student population.
  • children and young people in care enrolled in DE schools are more likely to be suspended or excluded than the broader DE school cohort.
  • students in care from non-English speaking backgrounds have an absence rate almost twice that of students from non-English speaking backgrounds who are not in care.
  • there are very high NAPLAN non-participation rates for students in care in DE schools. We know very little about the proficiency of almost half of Year 9 students, almost one-third of Year 3 students, one-quarter of Year 7 students, and just over one-fifth of Year 5 students in care enrolled in DE schools in 2017.
  • withdrawal rates from NAPLAN testing vary by year level and discipline but are significantly higher for children and young people in care compared to the broader DE student population.

Areas for attention

Data summarised in this report suggests further attention in some areas, including:

  • speech and language delays experienced by children before and on commencement of school
  • access to appropriate disability support services, for example in relation to intellectual disability (including a focus on whether and how the NDIS will contribute to the necessary support)
  • the evidence around the use of disciplinary measures such as school suspension and exclusion and options for alternatives, particularly for younger children
  • monitoring hours of attendance at school so that part-day absences and reduced-hours arrangements are reported and minimised
  • the experience of children and young people in care from non-English speaking backgrounds;
  • developing a better appreciation of the reasons for the high non-participation rate in NAPLAN testing and the implications this has for properly understanding the educational experience of children and young people in care.

You can read the full report on the Guardian’s website now.

Care leavers need our support beyond 18

photo of Penny Wright

Penny Wright Guardian for Children and Young People in Care

A few weeks ago my office conducted a poll about extending support for children in care.  Our readership[1] of 1700 overwhelmingly supported the extension of assistance to young people in state care beyond the current deadline of their 18th birthday[2].  Many cited the very poor outcomes for care leavers under the current regime and others pointed out that most young adults in South Australia continue to need, and receive, support from their birth families well into their twenties.

In the light of this, I was very pleased when the Government announced its intention to fulfil an election promise to extend financial support for foster and relative-care families to allow young people exiting care to stay on in those placements.  There is no doubt that providing stability for those young people will make it more likely that they will be able to complete their education and make a more gradual and individualised transition into employment and housing.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that around ten percent of young people in care will not benefit from these changes. These are the approximately 500 young people who do not live in a family-based care but live in emergency or residential care accommodation. Sometimes they have not been able to be placed in a family because a suitable match is not available but, more commonly, there are simply not enough home-based placements to meet the need.

The experience of young people in residential care varies greatly.  Some live in smaller residential care properties which provide a more family-like environment, with a stable group of residents and a supportive and familiar team of carers creating a nurturing home.  For others, especially those in the larger buildings housing eight to twelve residents, their experience is one of instability, tension and danger where residents with a variety of needs are placed quite randomly, and frequently express their unhappiness by running away. These risks and conditions were clearly identified in Commissioner Margaret Nyland’s 2016 report, The Life They Deserve.

Children who have lived in residential care often have particularly pressing needs beyond the age of 18, reflecting the challenges they experienced before coming into care, and the acknowledged risks inherent in residential care environments. Trauma can delay development and affect a person’s ability to function fully and successfully. A number may be ‘technically’ 18 but significantly ‘younger’ in their understanding and maturity and ability to negotiate a complex world beyond the care system.

So, what kind of support can be built for these young people beyond their 18th birthdays?

Often children in residential care approach their 18th birthday with a mixture of excitement about their new independence and high anxiety about how they will manage outside a system they have relied on.

Just like young people in foster care, some young people in residential care would definitely benefit from being able to continue in the only home they know until they are 21, supported by workers with whom they have trusting and supportive relationships until they are mature enough to live independently. Many others would choose to leave, either because their experience has not been a safe or pleasant one or to escape the stigma of being in care or just to spread their wings.

Allowing young people to stay on beyond their 18th birthday, in a similar way to those in family-based care, would not be straightforward.   In residential care houses staff might find that accommodating the needs of adult late-teens at the same time as providing a safe and appropriate environment for younger children is challenging.

Fortunately, other jurisdictions and other services have models and lessons that can be learned.  In the UK, care leavers have the option of services from their local authority and a ‘personal adviser’ til age 25. For residential care leavers this Foyer model of transitional youth accommodation combined with support services would make an excellent starting point.  There is one operating today in Port Adelaide[3].  I expect colleagues in child protection could point me to a dozen other models that could be part of a solution, too.

The funding to support foster and kinship care beyond 18 is a welcome initiative and will provide significant benefits for young people who are comfortable in stable placements.  For those who choose to leave family-based care or for those in residential care who do not have this option the needs identified by our poll respondents remain un-addressed.

I will seek opportunities to engage with the government and other individuals and services in our community to ensure that the post-18 needs of young people in residential care are not underestimated or overlooked.

[1] Current subscribers to the Guardian’s Information Service.

[2] Should we extend the age of leaving state care beyond 18?

[3]Ladder Port Adelaide Foyer

Programs for young people should be evaluated – by them

a group of young people at the Royal Commission consultation
An interview with Isabella Daziani from the Department for Child Protection Evaluation Unit

‘In evaluating programs for young people, we think it is fundamental to start with the young people themselves’, says Isabella.
‘If we really want to improve services for young people we must recognise they are the foremost experts in their lives – they know what is working for them and what isn’t.
‘And it must be done genuinely, more than a quick tick and flick to check off the “young people consulted” box.
‘But achieving a genuine, respectful and useful dialogue with young people is not always easy and can be made difficult by the circumstances of the young people. They have a lot of adults coming in and out of their lives and some are understandably reluctant and distrustful of yet another nosey adult. Others may have psychological, intellectual or physical disabilities that we need to acknowledge, and provide them with opportunity to contribute.
‘Some young people may be suspicious of the motives of adults or jaded by consultations that take up their time but produce no follow-up and no change.
‘To talk to young people, you may also need to navigate the attitudes of the adults who care for them. Some adults genuinely believe that young people should be protected from discussing challenging issues. Some believe that only adults can understand and legitimately speak on issues for young people.
‘We have found that many young people are very aware of their circumstances and capable of expressing their insights to a degree that would surprise many adults. They are the experts in their own lives. The young people we have spoken to always surprise and delight us with their insights and their directness.

This is part of a longer interview which includes the views of young people, Isabella’s top tips for consulting and some further reading.

Download the full version of Programs for young people should be evaluated – by them

What Youth Training Centre residents want from their community visitor

AYTC residents going for a football mark

Young footballers in the AYTC going for a mark at the Reconciliation Week game.

Community visits to the Adelaide Youth Training Centre will start this month.  Back in April we asked groups of residents about what they would like from the visits and what they hoped might result.

These are some of the things they said:

‘Why don’t you have a day when you are here each week – like a program?’

 ‘Speak to us as a group.  We might all have the same problem.’

‘Two weeks between visits is too long – you’ll miss all the lovely stories!’

 ‘There’s always stuff going on in the centre that we need more support on.’

‘[We need weekly visits because] anything could be happening in here.’

 ‘We ask the staff to contact you but then we have to wait a few days.’

‘Everyone should have your [phone] number as a pre-set when they come in.’

 ‘If I’m going through a rough patch or I’m not feeling confident, I won’t talk to you.’

‘Advocacy is making time easier.’

 ‘After you talk to the bosses, they treat us better.’

 

The quality and comprehensiveness of child protection practice frameworks in Australia

ACCG Frameowkrs report front page image

One of the key reforms in child protection in Australia recently has been the adoption of overarching child protection frameworks to ensure that practitioners have suitable training and competencies and that models of practice and tools are clearly defined and based on evidence.

So far, these reforms have not produced the expected results, with an increase in the rate of children on substantiated notifications, care and protection orders and in out-of-home care.  It is for this reason, the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) commissioned academics at the Australian Centre for Child Protection at the University of South Australia to examine current frameworks in Australia.

The intention was:

…to develop a benchmarking tool identifying the key components of child protection practice frameworks and a procedure for assessing the extent to which the approach within each component reflects good practice based on best available evidence. (1)

The report provides a concerning picture of the state of child protection frameworks as a whole. The researchers analysed 12 frameworks, including some from South Australia, and identified four significant gaps and limitations:

  1. Inconsistency and lack of child focus so that outcomes tended to emphasise parental and practitioner satisfaction, or decreasing expenditure.
  2. Lack of guidance as to what practitioner skills, knowledge or experience might produce better child protection practice.
  3. Little guidance on the models, techniques and tools needed for each aspect of child protection practice.
  4. Lack of an evidence base for the frameworks being used or, in some cases, evidence that indicated that the frameworks used were actually producing negative or contrary outcomes.

The review indicates that further work is clearly needed, including a bench marking tool and quality assurance procedure to assist with framework selection and development.

(1) Assessing the Quality and Comprehensiveness of Child Protection Practice Frameworks is now available on the Guardian’s website.


Should we extend the age of leaving state care beyond 18? – Poll results

graph of poll results

A huge ‘thank you’ to the 310 people who responded to the poll and particularly to the 177 who contributed to the over 11,500 words of comments.  It will take us a bit longer to prepare a report that will do justice to the quality and diversity of the comments.  In the meantime, here are the major themes.

The majority of respondents to the poll favoured the extension of support to young people in state care beyond the age of 18.  The reasons they gave were broadly of four types:

  1. Birth parents in our community frequently support their children with accommodation, education, finance and in many practical ways beyond the age of 18.   So should the state as parent.
  2. Children in care often have histories of neglect and abuse leading to developmental delays and the effects of trauma and their schooling is often affected by disrupted childhoods. This diminishes the capacity of many to cope with the responsibilities of adulthood at 18.
  3. High rates of homelessness, teenage pregnancy, mental health problems, substance abuse and unemployment and low levels of education and training demonstrate that many young people exiting care at age 18 are unprepared by the system to cope without further support.
  4. Recent research has demonstrated that human brain development and the capacity for self-regulation continue into the mid-twenties and beyond.

The right to opt out

Some respondents pointed out the legal and civil-liberties problems of extending the age of guardianship beyond 18.  Many stressed that it was essential that care-leavers should have the choice to opt in to the services provided and have a say in what services were made available and how they should access them.  Many stressed the right for young people to opt out of care situations they did not like.

How long should support last?

Many disputed the idea of setting a particular age at which support should cease and proposed that a marker could be used such as completion of education or training, stable accommodation or employment.  Others favoured a professional assessment against a set of psychological indicators to show when a person no longer needed support.

What services should be provided?

A wide range of services and supports were proposed which included financial and other support for foster and kinship families to enable young people to stay on beyond 18 at least until education and training were complete.  Some pointed out existing and proven services that could be extended and developed.  Others noted that current transition planning left many young people unprepared and that extra resourcing and new approach was needed to transition.

A fuller analysis of comments later.

Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) May 2018 meeting

ACCG members in Perth: Back row (left to right) Andrew Johnson, Phillip Brooks, Helen Connolly, Judge Andrew Becroft, Liana Buchanan, Natalie Siegel-Brown, Colin Pettit, David Clements, Penny Wright, Cheryl Vardon. Front row: Jodie Griffiths-Cook, Colleen Gwynne, Janet Schorer and Megan Mitchell.

The Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) met on 15 and 16 May 2018 in Perth, Western Australia.  The ACCG comprises national, state and territory children and young peoples’ commissioners, guardians and advocates.

The ACCG is currently focusing on

  • achieving better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people
  • promoting children and young people’s engagement and participation
  • upholding the rights of children and young people in youth justice detention
  • improving the safety of children and young people in organisations
  • promoting the safety and well-being of children and young people and
  • ending violence against children and young people

Download the ACCG May 2018 meeting Communique now.

Should we extend the age of leaving state care beyond 18?

picture of girl on jettyMany communities are questioning whether young people leaving state care at their 18th birthday are fully equipped to take on all of the demands of adult life.  Birth families often provide emotional and practical support to their offspring well beyond their teens.

One solution proposed has been to extend the age of leaving care beyond the current 18 years.  Does this deserve serious consideration in South Australia? Please contribute to the conversation via the Guardian’s 30-second poll.


Take me to the poll

We will post the results next week.

Backpacks for SA kids

picture of toys on the rack Backpacks 4 SA Kids is an amazing not-for-profit operating out of an industrial park north of Adelaide that provides care packs for children and young people in state care and in homeless and domestic violence shelters. Rachael Zaltron, who set up and manages it, took us on a tour.

“In 2017 we sent out 2,628 care packs to children and young people in state care and in domestic violence and homeless shelters as well as nearly 2,500 Christmas presents.  Eighty percent of what we send out comes from public donations.

girl packing a bag“Most of the work is done by volunteers.  We get 30 to 40 at each of our packing sessions.

“Backpacks contain the fun stuff like toys, games and books but also plenty of useful items like clothing and hygiene products.  Each back pack is checked three times to ensure that the contents are of high quality and suitable for the child.

“In the school holidays we are happy to see many children come in to volunteer packing the backpacks.  Children volunteering from local schools and the community learn a valuable practical lesson in understanding and helping other young people.

box of clothes“All of our back packs are matched for age or size and the gender.  As adolescents seem to be getting bigger, we are now including some adult sizes.

“We are always on the lookout for another place where we can make a contribution.  Last year we provided 52 ‘home starter packs’ of everyday home items to families trying to set themselves up in new accommodation and we are doing that again this year.

You can get in touch with Rachael via Facebook, the website or at [email protected]

You can read the full article in the Guardian’s May 2018 Newsletter.