‘Let Them Learn’: ACWA Sets its Advocacy Sights on Improving Educational Outcomes of NSW Children in Care

ACWA has embarked upon an advocacy initiative that seeks to raise the unacceptable levels of educational disadvantage currently experienced by children and young people living in out-of-home care in NSW.

Our ‘Let Them Learn’ project aims to bring about system wide change to ensure this vulnerable cohort has access to appropriate education that will prepare them for life.

As a key starting point for change, ACWA this week hosted a Roundtable of high level decision makers, stakeholders and experts from across government and non-government to identify gaps or barriers in current practices and to help determine a way forward for NSW.

Background
The poor educational outcomes attained by children and young people living in out-of-home care in NSW has long been a concern for ACWA and our members.

Education plays a fundamental role in helping children and young people growing up in care achieve a productive and rewarding life. However for this particularly vulnerable group of students, experiences of abuse and neglect, trauma, disrupted attachments, removal from family and placement changes can all impact negatively on their ability to learn. Research consistently indicates that far too many of these children and young people are missing out on the good quality education that is so critical to their future health, welfare and wellbeing.

Prompted by the concerns of our members, ACWA conducted a study to measure the depth of the problem in NSW. This included an online survey with agencies on the education inclusion of the children and young people in their care to address this need. Focus themes included attendance rates, causes of absence and the application of education plans. We extend our thanks to those agency staff who took time out to contribute to this pivotal data collecting exercise.

The Findings
While hardly surprising, the findings – which are outlined in the responding Snapshot: Educational Engagement of Children and Young People in Out-of-Home Care in NSW are nevertheless disappointing and concerning. Key findings from the data collected by ACWA reveal:

  • One in five school aged children and young people in care are absent from school at any given time.
  • One in three school aged children and young people in care did not have an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

In his foreword to this report Professor Mark Courtney (University of Chicago) notes: “ACWA’s report highlights the need for greater attention from and coordination between the child welfare and education systems when it comes to the proper education of children in care.”

The ‘Let Them Learn’ Project
Off the back of these findings, ACWA has instigated our ‘Let Them Learn’ advocacy project in a bid to ensure NSW children and young people in care have access to meaningful education.

In close consultation with our member agencies, we have developed a Policy Statement of goals and objectives that are essential to addressing and promoting educational inclusion and achievement of children and young people in care.

Education Roundtable: A Starting Point for Change
ACWA’s Education Roundtable was held at the Sydney headquarters of PwC Australia on October 24.

The event was designed in association with the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People, who shares ACWA’s commitment to advocacy for vulnerable children and young people while bringing a whole of government perspective to the issue, and sponsored by PwC. Its aim was to bring together a cross section of key stakeholders for high level discussion to determine the way forward for meaningful change.

The program included presentations from leading international academic Professor Judy Sebba (University of Oxford), as well as Deputy NSW Ombudsman Steve Kinmond, NSW Children’s Guardian Janet Schorer, NSW Children’s Court President Judge Peter Johnstone, Royal Children’s Hospital paediatrician Dr Karen McLean, NSW Advocate for Children and Young People Andrew Johnson, PwC partner Zac Hatzantonis, FACS Deputy Secretary Deidre Mulkerin, and NSW Department of Education Executive Director (Learning and Wellbeing) Robyn Bale and Child Protection Services Director Trish Ladogna, Child Protection Services, NSW Department of Education .

“ACWA is extremely mindful that, in addressing the educational access and achievement of children and young people in OOHC, no single agency can resolve the complex issues faced by this at risk group,” said ACWA Deputy CEO Dr Wendy Foote.

“Broadening the conversation to include multiple stakeholders recognises that this is an issue that not only impacts on all stages of the human life span but also ripples across the community, impacting on broad social and economic policy, tertiary education and workforce participation.”

A full report from the Education Roundtable will be shared in due course. In the meantime, ACWA extends our deepest gratitude to our member organisations for the indispensible voice they have brought to the conversation so far. We look forward to their further involvement as we continue to work towards change.

We also convey our thanks to our corporate sponsor PwC for their ongoing support and commitment to ACWA’s work as the peak body for child and family welfare in NSW.

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