What are the factors associated with educational achievement of children in care? A systematic review

This systematic review investigates the factors associated with educational outcomes for children in care, other than just being in care.

What were the key findings?

The review identified nearly over 60 variables tested for their association with educational outcomes:

  • Older age is often associated with lower educational outcomes.
  • Boys tend to do worse than girls, with some exceptions.
  • Children of minority ethnic groups (e.g. Black, Aboriginal) tended to do worse with some exceptions (e.g. Chinese).
  • There is a very high prevalence of children in care with behavioural problems and special educational needs and these children tend to do worse.
  • Placement instability was not consistently linked to worse outcomes.
  • In some studies, length of time in care predicted worse outcomes, while in others young people who had spent more time in care were doing better.
  • High caregiver expectations and support were associated with better educational outcomes.
  • Educational qualifications of caregivers was not associated with the child’s outcomes.
  • Young people’s aspirations and school engagement were associated with better educational outcomes.

 Note: the above findings emerged in a number of different studies which used different samples of children, different analysis methods and at times different definitions of key variables, such as special educational needs. For example, when thinking about the association between length of time in care and educational outcomes, are comparisons being drawn between children who have been in care a long term versus those who haven’t or children who aren’t in care? If the comparison is between children in care, did they all enter care at the same time or for the same reasons? These questions will greatly influence the answer.

How was the review carried out?

A systematic review is a technical literature review. It “aims to comprehensively locate and synthesize research that bears on a particular research question, using organised, transparent and replicable procedures at each step in the process.” (Littell, Corcoran, & Pillai, 2008, p. 1).

What research was included in the systematic review?

  • Studies had to be quantitative and investigate the relationship between at least one variable and educational outcomes of children in care.
  • The population was children in foster or kinship care predominantly. Samples of residential children only were excluded.
  • Outcomes had to be measured between 5 and 19 years old (school-age)
  • Accepted outcomes included test scores, grades, grade retention, attendance and exclusions.
  • Studies had to be in English or French and published after 1990.

Data sources 

Twelve databases and twenty websites were searched.
Thirty-nine studies were retained for the review.

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