A new Education Department team aims to improve school experiences and results for children in care

A new team in the Education Department is offering advice and training to educators, support staff and leaders in government schools with the aim to improve the experience of education (and the outcomes) for children and young people in care.

In the Guardian’s annual education report, released in July, we looked at the data relating to children and young people in care who attended South Australian government schools. We found that students in care consistently registered higher absence rates, significantly lower NAPLAN participation rates and were more likely to have a learning disability, than the overall government school population.

In a welcome development to help address these issues, the Department for Education’s Children in Care service was established earlier this year to support the unique needs of children who have a care background. It aims to increase understanding in schools about the complexities which affect children in care and provides advice, support and professional development for education staff so they can help children to better engage in school.

“We know that children and young people in care have poorer education outcomes,” Senior Social Worker – Children in Care, Deidre Lockley said.

“Many schools and teachers have a basic idea on what being in care for a child means, but they often don’t fully understand what this actually means for the child and how they can help,” Deidre said.

“This is especially true when a child is in residential care. With rotating rosters, a child can often wake up in the morning to a new worker in the house who might not know where their school is, the name of their teacher, or even if there is any homework to hand-in. This can have a big impact on the child even before they arrive at school for the day.”

The Education in Care service also seeks to inform teachers and schools about ways to better communicate with carers and children in care, as well as ensuring they have the necessary resources and support they need to meet the children’s educational needs.

“Although we don’t work directly with carers and the children themselves, we encourage schools to better communicate with the carers and young people so they are all working towards improving the educational outcomes of the child,” Deirdre said.

So far, the team has provided advice to education staff on how to approach teaching, based on trauma-informed practice. This might involve, for example, knowing the triggers for when a child gets upset and what a teacher could do differently in class to avoid these triggers. They have also worked with Education and Department for Child Protection (DCP) case workers to consider and build on the strengths of individual children and how these could be used to improve the child’s willingness and ability to participate in school and learning, as well as providing support to schools to overcome communication breakdowns with carers.

While the service doesn’t work directly with non-governments schools, it can also consult with DCP case workers about individual circumstance for a child in a non-government school, and make recommendations about various support options.

To find out more about the Children in Care service phone 8366 8800 or email: Education.ChildrenInCareService@sa.gov.au.

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