Early School Education a Critical Component to Keeping Careleavers Out of Prison

Professor Eileen Baldry responds to concerning statistics outlined in ACWA’s ‘Educational Engagement of Children and Young People in Out-of-Home Care in NSW’ snapshot:

ACWA’s report and recommendations should garner urgent attention from government and the education and family and community services sectors.

The findings that regularly 20 per cent of children in out-of-home care (OOHC ) are absent from school and, in many cases, are denied access to meaningful quality school education are shocking, but are in keeping with earlier research findings. ACWA’s report – and the observation of its accompanying Policy Statement that every child in Australia has a right to quality education appropriate to their needs – should be a given. But it has to be stated because this right is clearly not being afforded to many children in OOHC.

That one third of the children reported in this research did not have an individual education plan is another matter of extreme concern. The majority of children in OOHC have significant trauma and other disadvantaged backgrounds and require educational planning to ensure they are treated equitably. It is also the case that the higher education sector has a very low representation of young people who have been in OOHC, compared with their numbers in the community. This is largely because those who might have the potential to undertake higher education are not prepared by their schooling to undertake university studies.

ACWA’s report emphasises the positive and protective impact of a quality supportive education, but notes that many children in OOHC are not equipped with these beneficial effects. These observations are consistent with findings across studies that I have led on pathways into the criminal justice system (Baldry et al., 2012, 2015 (a)), for persons with disabilities in particular. These studies have shown the over-representation of persons who were in or had been in OOHC in the criminal justice system and the significantly poorer school education experiences and attainment of that group.

Amongst the cohort, all of who have been in prison and for whom I and my team have detailed lifecourse data, those who were in OOHC as children had the highest complex support needs and were more likely to have cognitive disability and to be Indigenous Australians, than the rest of the cohort. They were more likely to have been in juvenile justice and to have had earlier contact with the criminal justice system than their cohort peers. Strikingly, almost all had had very poor schooling experiences with poor education outcomes and high rates of exclusions and expulsions. We concluded that school education provided key opportunities to provide not only quality appropriate education but support interventions to link with agencies and services to address their social, behavioural and emotional support needs.

Similarly, an evaluation of Springboard, a Victorian program supporting young people transitioning from residential OOHC (Baldry et al., 2015(b)), highlighted the poor school education experiences (including exclusions and expulsions and for some of them, periods in juvenile justice), of many of these young people. The importance of providing the right kind of support to enable them to re-engage in education as older youth /young adults was one of the intents of the program. Had they had better school education experiences earlier in life they may have been in better position as they transitioned to independent adulthood.

Eileen Baldry is Professor of Criminology and Deputy Vice Chancellor Inclusion and Diversity at UNSW. Eileen’s research and publications focus on social justice matters and include mental health and cognitive disability in the criminal justice system; education, training and employment for prisoners and ex-prisoners; homelessness and transition from prison; Indigenous social work; community development and social housing; and disability services. 



Baldry, E., Dowse, L.& Clarence, M. 2012 People with intellectual and other cognitive disability in the criminal justice system Report for NSW Family and Community Services Ageing, Disability and Home Care pp1-64 www.adhc.nsw.gov.au/publications

Baldry, E., McCausland, R., Dowse, R., & McEntyre, E. 2015a A Predictable and Preventable Path: Aboriginal people with mental and cognitive disability in the criminal system. pp1-169. ISBN: 978-0-9873593-9-1; UNSW, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.3457.2240

Baldry, E., Trofimovs, J., Brown, J., Brackertz, N., & Fotheringham, M. 2015b Springboard Evaluation Report. UNSW & AHURI, Sydney, pp1-46