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.

Collaboration survey results – staff of Government schools and the DCP

 

 

 

 

 

The results from the survey completed in January 2018 show little change from the June 2017 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the Department for Child Protection (DCP).  However, DCP and DECD workers see things quite differently with DCP workers consistently rating levels of collaboration and cooperation as higher than their education colleagues.

Collaboration between between staff of Government schools and DCP workers
nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalwaysn*
June 2017 – all responses71855201246
Jan. 2018 – all responses52058152105
Jan. 2018 – DCP employees0176711618
Jan. 2018 – DECD employees15224122027

*n is the number of respondents who felt competent to comment on this aspect of collaboration and cooperation. Where the numbers are small, one should be careful of drawing more than general conclusions.

Comments by DCP workers**

January is not a normal month as a lot of agencies slow down during the Christmas break and school holidays. Otherwise there is a lot of dialogue with schools and DCP.

There is extreme variation of quality and quantity of collaboration and coordination between individuals and agencies involved in the care and protection of children and young people. In my area, it is of particular concern that there is such poor communication between DCP and other government agencies (principally DECD), as well as the NGO sector with regard to the training and development of DCP staff, workforce planning and aligning practice between DCP and non DCP workers who are charged with similar roles in the child protection system. Not only is this poor management and support of the workforce, it contributes to inconsistencies in knowledge, skills and practice and thus poorer outcomes for children and young people.

Comments by DECD workers**

I feel that DCP needs to open up the lines of communication with DECD/schools. Education needs to be given a greater importance then DCP often give it. Connection to education is linked to future outcomes for students.

Lack of communication from DCP with schools and DECD Student Support services; difficult to get DCP workers to attend case meetings; difficult to get a DCP worker to talk to on the phone about one of their clients (e.g. a guardianship child). DCP don’t always put the required consideration in to what school to enrol a guardianship child. (Please note these are general statements, there can be DCP workers who communicate and interact well).

There are times when there is good information sharing and planning between agencies, but other times not so. Seems somewhat dependent on staff involved.

I am as social worker in a Children’s Centre and we work very well with the Department of Child Protection and other government and non-government agencies in relation to supporting children at risk. I believe the only reason why collaboration is not always available is due to lack of resources in relation to the Department of Child Protection given on the ground workers are always operating at full capacity.

DECD Support Services often makes contact with DCP caseworkers regarding children already in care – often without return contact or reply… I make lots of recommendations in my reports and I rarely hear if any of these have been followed up by DCP. Personally have found DCP staff very difficult to contact. Staffing vacancies in the country most likely contribute to this.

Comment by an NGO worker**

In my limited experience of working with young people in care in the public school system, there is very limited communication between DCP and schools. Incidents such as missing person reports, lack of attendance, mental health and physical health, suicide and self harm risks and many other factors that impact upon a young person’s ability to attend and engage in education have not been clearly communicated with the school. This means that we as educators and school support staff are unable to provide the required support to ensure that the young person’s right to an education is upheld.

**Comments have had minor proofing changes. Some comments have been edited for brevity and to minimise repetition.

Analysis and commentary

Although the number of respondents was fewer than in the 2017 survey, there is little change from the June 2018 survey in the rate of collaboration and cooperation between workers in Government schools (DECD) and those in the the Department for Child Protection (DCP). The comments left identify similar issues to those identified in the June 2017 survey.

It is reasonable to expect that cooperation and collaboration should occur ‘always’ or ‘frequently’. By this criterion, DCP respondents, DECD respondents and respondents as a whole give the Government schools-DCP collaboration a substantial ‘fail’.

The  respondents’ comments generally suggest that, as the most significant decision makers and holders of information, DCP should be taking the initiative in promoting this collaboration.

The coordination and collaboration survey – DCP and DECD staff perceptions

18 July 2017

We dig into the data and comments from our June 2017 Coordination and Collaboration Survey,to see how staff in Department of Education and Child Development (DECD) schools and Department for Child Protection (DCP) workers view the prevalence of coordination and collaboration in their relationship. (1)

 C and C occurs…nevernot normalsometimesfrequentlyalways
%%%%%n
DECD staff2323505022
DCP staff094943047

When asked about how things had changed in the previous six months, perceptions were quite closer, biasing slightly toward the negative.

 C and C is…much worseworsethe samebettermuch better
%%%%% n
DECD staff10156010520
DCP staff7206310041

The comments mostly reflected the statistics and included the following:

Communication between DCP and education has reduced since the separation; there appears to be less support from DECD as previously; [Guardianship] children may have legislative rights to IEP’s however it is more of a tick box with some schools.  DECD regionals need to come along to more… (DCP worker)

One of my observations regarding significant improvements in communication about and services to vulnerable families in my region (Whyalla) is that it has been driven by the Manager of the local DCP office. She has done this in a number of ways: firstly, connecting to the community and engaging in community development activities (she knows her community, engages well with local government and non-government services and actions the philosophy of ‘child protection is everybody’s business’ through this engagement); secondly, she is solution focused and open to innovative practice (she takes the time to explore options); thirdly, she has made a commitment to work-force development (there has been a noticeable increase not only in DCP staff skills but also their ability to engage with clients and other stakeholders). (DECD staff)

As a school counsellor I am frequently involved in reporting child protection matters and supporting children and families with child protection issues. Our school has recently been ‘given’ a part- time Child Protection and Well-being Consultant. She comes to our school once a fortnight, for a day. She is very helpful and knowledgeable. However, I am concerned that the DCP is devolving too much responsibility on these (overworked) consultants. We are finding that some of our cases are closing and that we can also not refer children to Targeted Intervention Services anymore. We think that this is happening because the department is putting too much responsibility on the consultants. (DECD staff)

You can also download the Coordination and Collaboration Survey June 2017 – unfiltered results

(1) Sample numbers are small so data should be taken as broadly indicative only.

How well do children in state care do in the state education system 2015-16?

30 May 2017

In South Australia in 2016, 61.6 per cent of all students in care were enrolled in DECD schools.

The Guardian’s latest report Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2008-2016, is due for release tomorrow.  The report explores how well the state school system is providing for children and young people in care in these and other areas:

disability

  • A greater proportion have learning disabilities, notably in speech and language skills.
  • The proportion with an intellectual disability is nearly seven times the overall DECD student population.
  • The proportion with a speech and language related disability is over three times the overall DECD student population.

absence

  • The absence rate is only slightly higher than that for the overall DECD school population.
  • Aboriginal children in care have lower rates of absence than the overall DECD student population in significant categories.
  • Children and young people in care from non-English speaking backgrounds have over double the absence rate of all DECD enrolled students.

suspension

  • Students in care have higher rates of suspension but only in their primary school years.

NAPLAN

  • Many students in care in DECD schools do not sit the NAPLAN test, categorised as absent, exempt or withdrawn.  For example, for almost half of all Year 9 DECD enrolled students in care there is no information about them in critical areas such as numeracy and reading which may cast doubt on the validity of the reported figures.

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

How we will improve education for children in state care

23 May 2017

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Engagement with schools can offer children in care opportunities for socialisation, a chance to achieve and the basis for success in further study and employment. Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report recommended widespread changes to the way education was managed in the interest of children in care and the Government’s response in December 2016 accepted most of those recommendations.

The Government undertook to:

  • Mandate Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma (SMART) training for educational staff, requiring it to be part of professional development (R 89).
  • Review the Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) policies on school suspension, exclusion and expulsion and ensure that they are only used as a last resort (R 91).
  • Conduct a regular audit of children in care who are on reduced hours of attendance at school and ensure they have plans to re-engage in mainstream education (R 91).
  • Require the DECD to fund any in-school support needed by children in care (R 92).
  • Recruit and train a panel of school services officers to support children with trauma-related behavioural challenges (R 93).
  • Make modified payments to foster and kinship carers where the care leaver is engaged in tertiary education, apprenticeship, or post-high school training and their best interest is served by remaining in foster or kinship care until the qualification is completed (R 161).
  • Change policy and practice to support care leavers who want to access further education and training (R 163).
  • Establish a data system to allow access to a complete range of student data about children who move schools in remote Aboriginal communities (R 210).
  • Audit services in remote Aboriginal communities to ensure that there are adequate facilities to service playgroups, preschools and other services that visit the community (R 213).
  • Employ qualified child wellbeing practitioners in areas of need to consult with staff and to work directly with vulnerable families (R 52).
  • Provide secure, long-term funding for playgroups in remote Aboriginal communities, (R 209).

If you have an interest in education for children and young people in state care, watch out next week for our analysis of education data for South Australia from the Report on most recent Government Services.

 

Services for young people leaving state care

25 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #14

picture of girl on jettyThe team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report[1].  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first 13 in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. [3]

Commissioner Nyland was particularly critical of the support provided to young people during and after their transition from care at age 18.  She presented data that showed proper transition planning had never been provided for more than one third of young people exiting care.  Where it had been provided, she said, it had been delivered by under-qualified staff and the support services available were rendered inadequate by a lack of coordination and cooperation between services.

Young people…report receiving limited career planning and little information about what training and employment options may be available to them. All too frequently, young people approach the age of 18 without a clear understanding of how they will access adult services and accommodation.

The Commissioner recommended a change in legislation to oblige the Minister to continue to provide assistance to care leavers up to the age of 25.

Such assistance should specifically include the provision of information about services and resources (especially financial grants and assistance for care leavers); financial and other assistance to obtain housing, education, training and employment; and access to legal advice, health services, counselling and support.

Services funded by government and delivered by non-government organisations should start working with young people well before 18 and continue through the transition period and into adult life.  Analysis of current post-care services usage could be used as an indicator of areas of need.

The Commissioner also recommended a review of the South Australian service model to align it with the principles and practice of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, Transitioning from out-of-home care to independence: A nationally consistent approach to planning, commonly known as the National Approach[4]

The Commissioner recommended that a re-invigorated Rapid Response process also be reviewed to extend the range of priority services for young people up to age 25 and that home-based carers be funded to continue supporting care leavers where they were engaged in school, trade or tertiary training until that qualification was completed. 

Independent living programs, she said, needed to be made more flexible about the ages at which young people could be admitted and leave and post-support programs should be more generously resourced to meet the unmet need.  The Commissioner also pointed out the opportunity for Housing SA to develop new housing models more suitable to the needs of care leavers. 

Recognising the central role of smartphones in the lives of many young people, she recommended the development of a smartphone app. to provide readily available information about the range of services available to them during and after transition from care. 

The Commissioner also recommended changes to allow care leavers to see and make copies of documents held by the organisation that had provided services for them more easily.  

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • amendments to the Children’s Protection Act 1993 to require the Minister to provide or arrange assistance to care leavers aged between 18 and 25 years
  • definition of a range of information services and practical supports to be provided for young people post-care including financial, housing, education, health care, education and training, employment and legal advice
  • payments to home-based carers continued past 18 while young people in their care pursue education and training
  • review of the service model for care leavers to align with the National Approach
  • greater age-flexibility in the provision of independent living programs
  • expansion of the priority services provided under Rapid Response to care leavers up to age 25
  • provision of intensive case management assistance to care leavers identified as particularly vulnerable
  • greater resourcing of post-care services
  • changes to facilitate care leavers’ access to documents about them from carers and organisations that had provided services to them.

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below.

[1] Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

[2] See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal children, Education , Stability and certainty in care, Responding to abused or neglected children, Children in care with disabilities, Children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and Children in care in regional SA.

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

4 Council of Australian Governments (COAG), Protecting children is everyone’s business: National framework for protecting Australia’s children 2009–2020, Canberra, 2009.

Education

25 October, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #8

The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1.  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first seven in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3 

Engagement with schools can offer children in care opportunities for socialisation, a chance to achieve and the basis for success in further study and employment.  However,  the child’s experience at school can be blighted by developmental delays and disability, broken school attendance and challenging behaviour caused by trauma which may not be addressed or appropriately treated by conventional discipline practices.

It is critical that Education regards itself as a partner of the Agency in delivering appropriate services to children in care … remediation of psychological damage sustained when a child is abused or neglected is achieved through cohesive and consistent care across a child’s environments. A child’s education should be approached as a part of the therapeutic solution.

Commissioner Nyland observed that the responses by schools to children with these needs were mixed, with some schools embracing the opportunity and others regarding them as an imposition. She concedes that providing for the needs of children in care is not always simple.

School principals are obliged to provide a safe learning environment for school staff and students. Imposing special conditions on enrolment and providing additional support may be needed in some circumstances to mitigate risk. However, conditions must not be imposed that are so onerous as to effectively exclude high needs students from participation.

She noted that, ‘It is helpful to some students experiencing challenges in the school environment to have their hours of attendance varied for a limited period of time.’ but that the guidelines around suspension and exemption were inconsistently applied and the process not always documented.  She observed that excessive use of suspension and exclusion could place home-based care placements at risk by placing extra stress on the carers.

Resourcing to meet the extra needs of children in care was sometimes an issue, with wrangling over who was to fund support services delaying a student’s commencement, as did the availability of suitably trained school services officers. This exacerbates the disadvantage that the children already face. The Commissioner suggested that responsibility for resourcing children with high needs should reside with Education.

Skills and attitudes among educators were seen as critical.

The Commission considers [Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma (SMART) training] an important step towards changing the attitude of teachers to children facing educational challenges of this type. However, unless the training changes teaching practice, it is a hollow endeavour. The Department has held a contract to deliver this training since 2005, but evidence indicated that there remained a high level of misunderstanding of the needs of children in care.

Professional development as well as practical supports are necessary. The level of understanding of students with significant trauma backgrounds needs to be improved within all schools. All schools need to be ‘trauma friendly’. To this end, Education should continue to encourage staff to undertake SMART training, and should ensure that these skills have a high profile in professional development programs.

The Commissioner pointed out that the commitments made by various agencies under Rapid Response, including the commitment to Individual Education Plans for all students in care, had been allowed to lapse and should be revisited and renewed in this as in other areas.

The Commissioner also drew attention to the need for improvements in the provision of education to Aboriginal children in isolated locations.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • The application of SMART training for educators, requiring it to be part of training and professional development .
  • A renewal of the DECD Rapid Response commitment to ensure that all avenues for preschool, school and post-compulsory education-based supports were explored before suspension or exclusion are considered.
  • A review, and dissemination to educators, of DECD policies regarding school suspension, exclusion and expulsion.
  • Regular audits of students in care who are on reduced hours of attendance at school and review of progress on plans to re-engage them in mainstream education.
  • Recruiting and training of a panel of school services officers to support children with trauma-related behavioural challenges.
  • Evidence that children’s views about education options are solicited, discussed with them and accurately recorded in case files.
  • Clarification of DECD’s responsibility for resourcing support services provided for students in care in state schools.

Please join the discussion via the reply box leaving a name and an email address in the spaces provided.  We will remove them from the published post if you request in your reply.

1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care and Aboriginal children.

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

Access to education for students in care with disabilities

cartoon of children at school gate5 July 2016

Students with disabilities are not a homogeneous group.  They each have abilities, dreams and circumstances and often a unique history of loss and trauma. They have to negotiate and seek out many of the things that other children take for granted. They work by different rules, they are the subject of written plans about them and their privacy is less preserved than others. They may struggle to see brothers and sisters, to keep personal things safe and frequently have to attend new schools.


They also are achievers, most of whom overcome disadvantage to be strong and sure.


The benefits of going to school go well beyond learning and grades. In conversations with the Guardian’s Office students say they like school because they can mix with friends and learn new things and that there is a welcome sense of stability in the seeing the same places and faces. They are also able to do the much the same things as everyone else their age.


School can contribute positively to their social and emotional wellbeing. Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also often stress the importance of culture and identity and its relevance to education.


In reality, we must also recognise the practical challenge. An above average proportion of children in care of pre-school or school age compared with their age peers are “students with disabilities, additional learning needs and/or challenging behaviours”.


In September 2015 the Guardian made a submission to the Legislative Council Select Committee Inquiry into Access to the Education System for Students with Disabilities. In March this year, Guardian Amanda Shaw gave evidence before the Select Committee.


The focus of the Guardian’s submission and comments was on the state school system. Systemic data is not available about the work of non-government schools with children in care.The Guardian proposed that the gap in educational achievement and outcomes between children with disabilities in care and their age peers could be addressed by:

  • early specialist intervention for children with speech and language disabilities
  • strengthening capacity to build culturally supportive connections between Aboriginal students in care, local Aboriginal communities and schools
  • addressing the problem of lowered expectations of achievement for students with disabilities and/or in state care by providing information and challenging pessimistic views of educators, social workers and carers about capacity and capability
  • enhancing participation and engagement of students
    in care by, among other things, adopting alternative disciplinary measures in place of suspension and exclusion
  • monitoring and reporting on part-time attendance of students, with the aim of gradually increasing the hours of school attendance and participation
  • providing information and skills development for school staff in understanding and responding to children with learning disabilities resulting from early childhood trauma
  • agreement on a definition for learning disabilities that applies consistently across programs and across non-government and government schools
  • evaluation of the Flexible Learning Options (FLO) program to understand better its engagement with, and outcomes for, students in care who have, or are likely to, disengage with school
  • reviewing the impact of Individual Education Plans, expanding their use to non-government schools and enhancing the quality of their implementation
  • analysing the use of School Services Officers and allied health professionals in schools to better support individual students with learning difficulties
  • improving knowledge of year 12 completion rates and post-school activity so that we understand better the pathways from school.

You can access the 2015 GCYP submission to the Select Committee on the Guardian’s website..

This item originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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How well do children in state care do in the state education system?

7 June 2016

We have just released our report Children and Young People in State Care in SA Government Schools – 2008-2015

Reading the most recent NAPLAN results, rates of suspension and exclusion, rates of disability and attendance figures together gives a more complete picture of how children and young people in care are doing in the state school system.

Here are the key takeouts

NAPLAN results show that 10 to 20% fewer children in care achieve the National Minimum Standard in literacy and numeracy than the state as a whole.  The disparity in reading and writing becomes greater than with numeracy skills as children age.  This figure should also be read with the knowledge that four or five times as many children in care are excused from NAPLAN testing than the state school population as a whole.

Disability rates for children in care enrolled in government schools are much higher than the state as a whole (30% versus 9%). As an example, the rate of children in care attending government schools in 2015 with an intellectual disability was nearly seven times that of those enrolled in government schools as a whole.  The rate of children in care reported as having a speech and language disability was over three times the rate of those enrolled in government schools as a whole.

Exclusion rates for children in care are four to five times the rate for the general school population, though the small numbers of children in care makes determining trends difficult. Rates of suspension are similarly higher for children in care, being more evident in primary-age students.

Absence rates are similar for children in care in government schools compared with the state school population as a whole.  Interestingly:

  • students with a disability who are in care have a lower absence rate than that reported of children with a disability within the overall school population, that is, they are more likely to be attending than those who have a disability but are not in care.
  • this is also the case for Aboriginal children and young people
  • students in care from non-English speaking backgrounds have about twice the absence rate than that reported for those students from non-English speaking backgrounds who are not in care.

You can read the full report with graphs, references and notes on areas for attention from our website.

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