Postsecondary education planning for children in out-of-home care

Year: 2019

Author: Harvey, Andrew, Tootell, Naomi, Wilson, Jacqueline, Mendes, Philip

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The paper outlines our foundational research conducted to map and analyse postsecondary education planning processes for Victorian children in, and transitioning from, out-of-home care (OOHC). There are 50,000 children in Australian out-of-home care every year, including foster, kinship, and residential care. Research by the authors and others has indicated that only 1-3% of care leavers (i.e. those who transition from out-of-home care) attend higher education, and the educational and broader outcomes of care leavers are extremely poor, including high levels of homelessness and poverty. Improving the emphasis on education planning and pathways within care leaving plans could dramatically improve rates of postsecondary education and contribute to lasting cultural change within the welfare sector.

Previous research has clarified that many Australian children in care do not complete an individual education plan nor a broader ‘leaving care’ plan before they transition to independence, and that such plans are typically not holistic, future-oriented, well-resourced, recorded, analysed, or evaluated (Harvey, McNamara and Andrewartha 2014). Building on that research, our project explored perceptions of major stakeholders around planning, through semi-structured interviews with representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Department of Education and Training (DET), welfare agency leaders, and Indigenous organisations such as the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc. (VAEAI).

The interviews explored the accountabilities of carers, social workers and related staff, and the extent to which children in care are actively involved in the formulation of postsecondary education planning. Through the interviews we sought to understand the existing formal planning processes, and to identify the major barriers to, and opportunities for, effective education planning.

Research revealed substantial differences between theoretical implementation and the reality of how planning is conducted on the ground; the need for transition planning to be considered within the broader policy context, including the proposed extension of state support for some care leavers through to the age of 21; and the need for a stronger emphasis on postsecondary education and prioritising the voices of young people in care.