What’s the impact of being in care on educational outcomes: an international systematic review

This systematic review of international research was undertaken to consider the following questions:

  • Is there an association between being in care and educational outcomes?
  • What is the nature of the association between being in care and educational outcomes?
  • Is there any evidence to suggest that this association is causal?

This review only concerns children in family foster or formal kinship care.

Full review (pdf)

Key Messages (pdf)

Electronic databases and websites were used to identify 28 studies including two reviews/meta-analyses from the UK, US, Canada and Australia. Comparisons across countries are subject to limitations of different cultures and services. Studies identified for the review were published after 1990 and were all in English. All but two studies employed comparison groups or compared the children in care to the general population administrative data. Study samples ranged from 107 to over 222,000 young people.

Key Findings

  • Children in care lag behind their peers in the general population on educational attainment (grades, literacy and numeracy test scores). Children in care also have lower attendance and a higher risk of exclusion.
  • There is a strong link between being in foster or kinship care and educational outcomes. However, when factors such as gender, ethnicity or special educational needs are accounted for, the link between being in care and how well children do in education is not as strong. Children who are disadvantaged in education are overrepresented in care.
  • When children in care are compared to similarly disadvantaged children who are not in care, the attainment gap is reduced and in several studies disappeared.
  • Findings suggest that care does not appear to be damaging, on average, to children’s education.
  • Relatively few studies in our review found that children benefit academically from being in care.


Call to Action

  • Challenge the assumption that care is damaging to children’s education.
  • Pay attention to pre-care experiences of childrenand consider the ways in which these
  • may affect education.
  • Ensure that information on pre-care experiences is included in future research
  • to understand the long term impact.
  • Speak to children and young people to find out what helped them get on in
  • education.

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