Victorian education system failing to meet the needs of children and young people in care: report tabled in Parliament today

Media Releases 16 November 2023

Thursday 16 November 2023 – for immediate release

Educational engagement and outcomes for children and young people in out-of-home care trail significantly behind those of their peers according to Let us learn, an inquiry tabled this morning in the Parliament of Victoria by the Commission for Children and Young People.

‘Victoria has made significant investment in its education system over the last decade and has much to be proud of. But this inquiry shows the system is not meeting the needs of all students. Indeed, the disparities between children and young people in care and the general student population are stark and they are shameful,’ said Liana Buchanan, Commissioner for Children and Young People, today.

Students in care have lower attendance rates and NAPLAN scores than other students and are five times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. Data suggests only a quarter of students in care progress from year 10 to year 12 in government schools, compared to over 80 per cent of the general student population.

While there has been positive progress in kindergarten enrolment, enrolment rates for children in care are still behind the overall enrolment rate and kindergarten attendance is not measured.

‘For this inquiry we heard from nearly 200 children and young people in care or with recent experience of care. They told us they value school and want to do well. But many also told us they are stigmatised and bullied at school, and that adults in the school system make assumptions that they cannot achieve or learn well,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

Department of Education data is clear that students in care are more likely to be excluded from school. For example, over one third of year 7 students in care and almost 40 per cent of year 8 students in care were suspended in 2022.

‘Children and young people in care have experienced significant trauma, but schools are not consistently equipped to understand trauma and its link to a child’s behaviour,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

‘We should not respond to trauma with disciplinary measures that in effect punish children for the abuse or neglect they have suffered in childhood.’

The inquiry recommends measures to ensure all schools apply a trauma-informed approach, as well as greater restrictions on the use of suspensions, informal suspensions and the use of modified timetables.

The inquiry found that aspects of the out-of-home care system also create barriers to education for children and young people.

‘We heard that in a stretched system with high workforce turnover and high caseloads, education is often not prioritised as it should be,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

In addition, students in care are too often forced to change schools or travel long distances when their placement is changed. Unfortunately, the inquiry found that placement instability, worker turnover and the proportion of children in care without an allocated worker have all become worse in recent years.

The inquiry found carers can struggle to provide the educational support and resources that children and young people in their care need and recommends increased financial support for kinship and foster carers.

‘We need to go as far as we can towards the kinds of resourcing and support that children and young people who are not in care typically enjoy. Being in the care system should not be an insurmountable barrier to educational achievement and ambition,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

The report highlights positive practice, including LOOKOUT Centres that have strongly supported implementation of the Early Childhood Agreement for Children in Out-of-Home Care and the Out-of-Home Care Education Commitment through awareness raising, capacity building in schools, and improved collaboration between the out-of-home care and education systems. The report finds insufficient resourcing for LOOKOUT Centres limits their impact, and recommends senior level oversight of the Agreements and public reporting on student education and wellbeing outcomes.

Commissioner Buchanan also flagged that the impact of remote schooling through COVID lockdowns had a particularly negative impact on children and young people in care. As the report recommends, she said the impact on children’s rights, safety and wellbeing should be formally considered in all decisions regarding pandemic orders and included in the published reasons for them.

‘Every child has the right to an education that sets them up for a life of success and achievement,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.

‘I trust this report will drive reform to make Victoria “the education state” for all children and young people, including those in the out-of-home care system,’ Commissioner Buchanan concluded.

The report includes 40 findings and makes 47 recommendations for government action to improve the child protection, out-of-home care and education systems and their ability to meet the education needs of children and young people in care.

Download the Let us learn report and view a video summary.

For interview:

Liana Buchanan
Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People

Meena Singh
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People

Media contact:

Darren Lewin-Hill
0437 046 360