Supporting the Educational Aspirations of Care Leavers and Young People in Care

In this latest article in ACWA’s ‘Let Them Learn’ series on the educational needs of children in care, Richard Pourau writes about the positive work being carried out by Western Sydney University to address some of the potential barriers to educational achievement experienced by this cohort.

Young people within the out-of-home care system, as well as those who experience and transition out of the care system, often referred to as care leavers [1], can face many difficulties and barriers that others in society may not be confronted with. In regards to education, there are many well documented detrimental factors that these young people may experience that can contribute to decreased opportunities and poorer outcomes later in life [2].

Western Sydney University’s Office of Widening Participation acknowledges these issues and has endeavoured to improve opportunities and educational outcomes for young people in care since 2014 by working with community stakeholders to deliver a range of access and support projects [3].

In addition to linking young people and carers to wider university support services, the Community Education Liaison Program has delivered afterschool workshops and university taster days for community members, as well as providing retention support to current student care leavers. Through these initiatives, hundreds of students in care and care leavers have been exposed to increased possibilities regarding higher education, with a number of these students assisted with enrolment into undergraduate and pathways courses, as well as being supported in applying for scholarships or on-campus accommodation. A small number of student care leavers have also taken up paid Student Ambassador roles with the University, working on Widening Participation projects and events as student leaders and spokespeople.

While some educational support for care leavers and young people in care does exist, much more can be done to address potential barriers to educational achievement. Due to the complex network of stakeholders involved, any collaboration between education providers and the agencies, organisations and services that support these young people and their carers requires substantial development. Carers, the primary supporters of these young people, themselves require improved access to relevant information in order to be able to effectively raise and support the educational aspirations of those in their care. For similar reasons, caseworkers and other support professionals may require additional information and training around higher education courses, pathways and available supports. Only a genuinely collaborative approach will strengthen and sustain the education support network for care leavers and young people in care and facilitate improved educational opportunities.

Richard Pourau is the Community Education Liaison Project Support Officer at Western Sydney University’s Office of Widening Participation.

ACWA has embarked upon the ‘Let Them Learn’ advocacy initiative aimed at bringing about system wide change to ensure that children and young people in care have access to appropriate education that will prepare them for life.

 

References

[1] Harvey, A, McNamara, P, Andrewartha, L & Luckman, M 2015, ‘Out of care, into university: Raising higher education access and achievement of care leavers’; Harvey, A, Campbell, P, Andrewartha, L, Wilson, J & Goodwin-Burns, P 2017, ‘Recruiting and supporting care leavers in Australian higher education’.

[2] Beckley, A & Peel, N 2015, ‘Children in Out of Home Care: Should we give them a Fair Go?’; Beckley, A, Peel, N & Pourau, R 2015, ‘Ensuring equal opportunities for children in out of home care: what is being done?’

[3] Office of Widening Participation 2017, Office of Widening Participation, November 2017, Western Sydney University. Available from: www.westernsydney.edu.au/widening_participation/home/community/out_of_home_care

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