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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LSS helps break the barriers to tertiary success

It was great news when the State Government announced that there would be no course fees to undertake a Vocational Education and Training (VET) course funded under Skills for All TAFE courses for people under guardianship or formerly under guardianship. Getting tertiary training and qualifications is a proven route to employment that can provide financial stability and personal rewards.

Course fees, however, are only one of the barriers that can prevent young people with a care experience from entering and completing further education.

Learner Support Services (LSS) sets out to increase success by addressing those barriers so that students can focus their full energies on study. LSS Case Managers work individually with students in TAFE and some Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) to link them up to non-Government and other service providers.

Barriers that students have overcome with support from their case manager are wide-ranging. Issues with transport, accommodation, relations with Centrelink, child care, alcohol and substance abuse and lack of basic skills all have the potential to de-rail student aspirations.

LSS is taking particular care to build relationships between TAFE and RTOs and NGO service providers to ensure that each understands what the other is about and how they can best work together to support students.

Sarah Marshall from the Policy and Intergovernment Relations Unit of the Department of State Development (DSD) explained that LSS was only one of the services to assist people with care experience and other potential students to enter training in TAFE and RTOs.

‘Student Services in any branch of TAFE will be happy to talk to prospective students about career options and learning pathways. Prospective students with care experience can also talk to Student Services about their eligibility to have fees waived, and to access case management support through LSS’, said Sarah.

‘The Department of State Development also funds Career Services available free to people who are on unemployment benefits. You can call the Skills for All Infoline to have an initial chat about what you’d like to do and get information you need on careers, jobs and training. If you’re looking for work Career Services have qualified advisers who can help through one-on-one support.

‘‘We have found that, for many students once they have have started on their study pathway, the intensive, one-on-one service provided by an LSS Case Manager have contributed greatly to their eventual success,’ said Sarah.

For a chat to see what is available and what you are eligible for, call the Skills for All Infoline on 1800 506 266 or visit the Skills for All website at


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