The Need to Do Better Educating NSW Children in Care

“Education is particularly important for children in care, as it is integral to their overall development and wellbeing, and provides an important gateway to future employment and life opportunities.”  [1]

The powerful positive influence that high quality education can have on the life trajectory of children and young people in out-of-home care (OOHC) is well known, both internationally and within Australia. The significant impacts include: improved physical health and wellbeing; improved relationship and social skills; a sense of belonging and connection with the broader community; and longer-term increased likelihood of securing a professional career and critical factor in breaking the cycle of poverty.

While Australia has a strong global reputation for high quality education, ranking ninth in the world on the basic education index[2] (World Economic Forum; Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016), the outcomes for children in care across the country do not reflect such a positive view.

In NSW the generally poor educational outcomes of this group, combined with a lack of educational data specific to children in care, means there is a pressing need to better understand their education experiences and what we need to do better to support them. A 2012 NSW study found that children in care had significantly poorer numeracy and literacy results than those of their peers throughout almost the entirety of their school life. We know it is more common for children in OOHC than their peers to spend significant time away from school, to display complex behavioural and social issues, to experience bullying, and to leave school without qualifications; and that they are less likely than other children to continue their education beyond the period of compulsion [3].

In response to this critical issue, ACWA has undertaken a small-scale exploratory research project that will form part of a wider campaign to better support NSW children in care to overcome the educational disadvantage they experience.

This research project involved an online survey, conducted by ACWA in 2016 with member agencies on the education inclusion of the children and young people in their care to address this need. Focus themes of the survey included attendance rates, causes of absence and the application of education plans.

Follow-up interviews were then conducted with a sub-sample of survey respondents to further investigate service providers’ experiences interacting with the education system.

ACWA is currently in the final stages of completing this education research report and intends for it to become available in the second half of the year.

In addition, ACWA is dedicating the next two forthcoming issues of developing practice (which will be released next month concurrently) to the theme of educational outcomes for children in OOHC.

ACWA would like to thank those OOHC providers who completed the survey. Your contribution to the evidence base is invaluable.

Equally ACWA would like to extend our thanks to those agency staff that took time out of their schedule to be involved in the follow-up interviews. These highly experienced and passionate respondents provided extremely useful insights into typical experiences interacting with local schools and the education system.


[1] AIHW: Educational outcomes for children in care: linking 2013 child protection and NAPLAN data, 2013, Canberra: AIHW.

[2] World Economic Forum: Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016, 2015.

[3] Family and Community Services NSW: Pathways of Care Longitudinal Study – Wave 1. Chapter 6: Children’s childcare and educational experiences, 2015.