The Relationship Between Key Care Transitions and Education

For children and young people, transitioning through the many different stages of life is a natural part of growing up. When life transitions are appropriately supported and reasonably anticipated, they can enhance a child’s development. Normal transitions such as the move from primary to secondary school, can present children with exciting changes and opportunity for growth.

Children and young people in out-of-home care (OOHC), on the other hand, typically experience a number of unexpected transitions, which evidence shows can have significant consequences on their future. However, one of the areas in which very little is still known is the impact of educational transitions on children in care.

Dr Michelle Townsend, Professor Judy Cashmore and Professor Anne Graham investigate this very issue in their article ‘Education and out-of-home care transitions’, published as part of two current special editions of developing practice (Issues 45 and 46) focused on education and OOHC. The authors report on findings from a study which used a mixed methods approach to better understand children’s perceptions of how the three key transition points in the care system–entry to care, placement change and restoration–have influenced their education.

As part of the study, 31 children in OOHC from rural and metropolitan areas of NSW who were transitioning from primary to secondary school participated in interviews before and after their move to high school. Another 56 children’s case files were analysed to gain a better understanding of the perspectives of those in decision-making positions.

In the interviews, children identified their main worries when changing schools as leaving friends, making new friends and fitting in. They also identified that being involved in education decisions and having the reason for school changes explained to them by a supportive caregiver as critical elements in helping them adjust to school transitions. Further in the paper, Townsend et al. discuss the importance of stable relationships on the wellbeing of children in care, particularly during times of transition.

Interestingly, a viewpoint reported by many of the children who participated in the study was that transitioning into care had a positive impact on their education by providing them a ‘fresh start’ from previously unstable environments. Children frequently responded positively to a school transition when they were able to maintain relationships with friends or siblings, reaffirming the importance of social relationships during times of significant change.

The article also considers the policy and practice implications of the study findings. The authors highlight the need to involve children in the decisions made about their education and suggest that both policy and practice ought to seriously address the mechanisms that allow meaningful participation by children and young people.

The two special editions of developing practice examine a range of important issues relating to education and children in care. While issue 45 focuses on children aged 7-15 and at specific stages of schooling, issue 46 presents research on further and higher education for young people in care.

Readers will find articles in issue 45 on the educational outcomes of children in care across six states and territories based on NAPLAN results, as well as an overview of the TEACHaR program, a flexible learning support service model operating in Victoria, among others. Issue 46 offers readers several pieces that investigate the needs of young people in care aiming for further education and university entry. Another article, ‘Care leavers in Australian higher education: Towards evidence-based practice’, suggests options for an improved evidence base on what works to encourage young people in care to seek further education.

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