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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Read to Me

REad to Me photo Kaurna PlainsThose quiet moments spent reading with a baby or toddler may be more than just a pleasant memory for you both.  Research here and overseas has repeatedly shown that reading with a young child is a powerful predictor of their future success in reading and writing and in education generally.

Raising Literacy Australia has long been in the business of getting books into the hands of young children and their families and their most recent venture, Read to Me, has a special focus on children who are in state care.

Starting October 2015 all children in care from birth to five years have received a package of books carefully selected for their age group and delivered to their door.

‘Families SA has been very supportive while keeping children’s details confidential,’ explains Raising Literacy Australia’s Michelle Littleboy.

‘They let us know the ages of children, and the  number of packs and then coordinated the deliveries to the right addresses.

‘After the first delivery, we then provide a top-up pack every few months and, of course, starter packs to new children coming into care.

‘The next round of deliveries will be in March,’ she said.

Many carers and foster parents have written to express their appreciation.

‘My husband and I are foster parents and today our foster son received a pack of books from yourselves. We just wanted to say thank you and what an awesome initiative. He was delighted to receive them all and immediately sat and read/had them read to him with/by his older brothers. It was lovely to see them all enjoying the new books.’

‘We’ve had many phone calls from grateful carers and foster parents too and even some happy tears,’ said Michelle.

‘The project is funded by the South Australian Government with great support from Variety the Children’s Charity of South Australia and Cochrane’s Transport.  Support from children’s publishers across Australia has helped us to buy books very economically.’

Raising Literacy Australia is confident that they are in this for the long run.

‘We will really see the true benefit of this project when this generation of children are starting to sit down to read with their own children,’ said Michelle.

Raising Literacy Australia is the overarching organisation best known by The Little Big Book Club Program.  Information on its variety of initiatives can be found at its website.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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Educational opportunity for ATSI students inquiry – the Guardian’s submission

ATSI Education Inquiry graphicOn Wednesday 16 September the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, asked the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs to inquire into and report on the educational opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The Guardian’s submission to that inquiry is now available on our website.

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Access to the Education System for Students with Disabilities

The Guardian’s submission and evidence given to the Legislative Council Inquiry into Access to the Education System for Students with Disabilities is now available.

In important ways, children in care are the same as other children – they have ability, strength, ‘regular’ insecurities and they want to be treated the same. However, they do face more obstacles: issues about the state being their parent, who is their best advocate and who has the responsibility for coordinating their educational and health needs. Children and young people in care tend to have more professionals in their lives than friends.

Sara Bann, former Youth Advisor to the Guardian, 2014

The Guardian’s submission is available for download.

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Young people in care got talent

Richard Chew and bandThe power of music to draw young people out of themselves and to draw them together was never more evident than at the Clayton Wesley Church Hall on the afternoon of 30 May.  The musical performances by twelve young people and Richard Chew’s band Working Dog Union were the culmination of eight hours of intensive rehearsal over two weekends.

The workshops were funded with a  grant from the newly-created Karen Fitzgerald Fund which provides young people in care with experiences that would not normally be available to them.

Sue Nicholls who is spokesperson for the fund said ‘We approached the Southern Guardianship Hub at Marion with the idea of a music workshop for young people in care and Manager Adam Reilly was very supportive.

‘Two workers from Marion Meredith DuCain and Tony Satanek helped with finding interested young people and with the organisation and transportation.

‘Our starting group of 15 participants for the first workshop only dropped to 12 for the second one which is a tribute to the respectful and supportive way that Richard and the band members worked with them.

‘Really though, it is a tribute to the young people themselves, not only their talent but also the courage and resilience it takes for some to just get up and perform.’

In the words of some of the young musicians:
“I had a great time. I enjoyed the singing.”
“It was nice to meet new people and join in.”
“I had a wonderful day and it was awesome.  Thank you for letting me come.”

Girl playing guitarThe Fund celebrates the life and work of the late Karen Fitzgerald by, among other things, providing grants of up to $5,000 to support projects that assist the healing and development of individuals or groups of young people under the guardianship of the Minister.

Says Sue Nicholls, ‘We are keen to hear about  projects, especially those that involve cooperation and co-funding so please give me a call on 0432 594 833 so we can talk and provide you with the guidelines and application form.’

If you’d like to comment on this, please join the discussion in the panel below.

What’s been done March – May 2015

Image of Aboriginal Children in Care in the Murraylands Facebook pageThe consultation with children and young people has ramped up in these three months. We have hosted consultations on child protection systems and the Charter of Rights, and interviewed five young Aboriginal people for a new video about being in care and culture. The book of children’s views on the topic of respect, from the 2014 consultation, is at the printers.

Available now are updated reports on expenditure in child protection and trends in educational attainment for children in government schools.

If you missed the releases in February, there are new reports on the use of interim emergency care and reports on the conditions for children in smaller residential care and larger residential care. The Guardian’s submission to the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission is also now available, as is the response to the proposals for adoption law reform.

To support our face-to-face meetings with Aboriginal communities in the Murraylands we have a second Facebook account.

In the first quarter of 2015 there were 35 requests for intervention about children under guardianship, involving 49 children. The Senior Advocate audited 56 annual reviews and the Advocates made five official visits to residential or youth justice units.

The Guardian has met with over 120 people so far to introduce the new Charter of Rights for children and young people detained in youth justice facilities.

How well is SA’s education system doing for young people in care – 2014 data update

School roadsign 1_warmtone_square_200pxThe Guardian’s report Children and Young People in State Care in South Australian Government Schools 2007-2014 tracks trends in school enrolment, attendance and literacy/numeracy of children in care in government schools.

The 2014 Report draws attention to the need to address:

  • Speech and language delays of children before, and on entering, school
  • Alternative disciplinary measures to suspension from school – particularly for younger children.
  • Monitoring hours of attendance at school so that part-day absences are minimised.
  • Investigation of the reasons for the high rates of exemption from NAPLAN tests.
  • Narrowing the gap between students in care and their age peers in literacy and numeracy abilities.

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