Seizing the Moment: Are We Optimising Primary Years’ Learning Opportunities for Australian Children in Care?

Patricia McNamara & Elizabeth Fernandez - Education in Out-of-Home Care


Australian children growing up in out-of-home care (OHC) have learning outcomes well below their mainstream peers. This Chapter explores learning opportunities and challenges confronting primary school children in care. It presents a contemporary overview of policy, practice and research in this domain. The Chapter examines socio-emotional and cognitive difficulties these children often bring into OHC, especially those deriving from attachment disruption and trauma. It also considers systemic issues encountered within the care system, including placement changes and a lack of service focus on learning. A broad range of contemporary Australian policy, practice and research responses are identified. Those focused on Aboriginal children, who are greatly over-represented in care, are of special import. It appears that placement services which privilege education and collaborate with schools attuned to the special needs of children in care, can redress gaps and address learning disabilities. Seizing the moment for early intervention during the primary years is clearly critical; there is evidence that learning gaps too often stretch beyond reach by the time children in care enter high school. Positive secondary and tertiary education outcomes, along with enhanced employment and life opportunities, build on strong primary schooling foundations. The Chapter from Education in Out-of-Home Care illustrates that increased resourcing is needed to facilitate the achievement of improved education outcomes for Australian primary school children in OHC. Such investment will almost certainly result in improved lifelong wellbeing. These children have long been marginalised from equitable access to educational opportunities in a country that is well placed to offer much more.