Care Leavers Absent from Higher Education

This a revised item first posted in June 2015. It draws attention to an important article found in the Australian Journal of Education, May 14, 2015: 
A forgotten cohort? Including people from out-of-home care in Australian higher education policy, by Andrew Harvey, Lisa Andrewartha and Patricia McNamara.

The Abstract reads:

People from out-of-home care backgrounds are largely absent from Australian higher education equity policy. Compared with the UK, Australia has moved slowly to consider legislative and programme incentives for young people who leave state, foster or kinship care and who wish to access higher education. One major reason for the relative inaction of the Australian higher education sector towards this cohort is the rigidity of the national equity framework established in 1990. This article argues that policy reform is required to improve the participation of people from out-of-home care backgrounds in Australian higher education. Effort could be directed into revising the national equity framework, in particular by including out-of-home care as a specific group to be monitored. In addition to revising the national policy architecture, further devolution of equity policy to institutional level may enable greater engagement with the out-of-home care cohort.

Read the full article here.

This article draws on similar material found in: 

Out of care, into university: Raising higher education access and achievement of care leavers, a report by Andrew Harvey, Patricia McNamara, Lisa Andrewartha & Michael Luckman, published in March 2015 by the Access & Achievement Research Unit at LaTrobe University available here.

My comments follow:

This article is excellent – as far as it goes. It alerts Higher Education policy makers to the need to revise the Australian equity framework (which was introduced 15 years ago) by including Care Leavers as one of a number of cohorts of disadvantaged students given special attention in university entry and support programs.

However, the authors largely  ignore the source of the problem: the huge barriers to success for Care Leavers in primary and secondary schools as the necessary pre-requisites to tertiary study. 

Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) surveys (2008, 2011) show that nearly a quarter of Care Leavers had no schooling beyond primary level. More than 50%  left school without having even the first level of certificate (Year 10). 

Many were abused, emotionally, physically and sexually to the point where survival was a more pressing issue than getting an education. But equally important, many report that their ‘carers’ routinely told them they were worthless and would never make anything of themselves. It’s easy to be demoralised when the adults looking after you tell you that you will be one of life’s failures.

To reinforce that culture of low expectations, ‘carers’ pushed young people out of ‘care’ as soon as they were old enough to get a job – any job. Many, of course, soon joined the long queues of the unemployed, the homeless and the marginalised. Many would love to get a university education – and some have somehow achieved that. But for many, many more, getting a university education is the last thing they have time to dream of.

Associate Professor Jacqueline Wilson and I have written an article for a book due in 2016 in which we expand on some of these matters (details will be made available as soon as we know them).

What’s needed is far more fundamental than a change of culture and  the odd scholarship at university. Success will not come unless Care Leavers are given  systemic support and structured resources including substantial financial support, realistic options for accommodation that is conducive to study and personal mentoring and emotional support.

This support is needed on a consistent basis from the time a child goes into ‘care’ and must continue well after they leave the system. 


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