The Expert Advisory Panel (2015) reported that children and young people who came into contact with Child Youth and Family (CYF) had high rates of educational disengagement and under achievement. The Voices team further explored these experiences and outcomes through a qualitative study of children and young people’s experiences, a review of New Zealand government data, and a literature scan of national and international research.
This project is intended to inform policy and practice change within Oranga Tamariki as well as support and inform Ministry of Education work. It is comprised of three research reports and a summary.
Part 1: Voices of children in care in Aotearoa New Zealand
Fifty nine participants took part in the study overall. Twenty three of these were children in care aged seven – 15. Children included in the study had been in care for at least two years. In addition 13 caregivers, 10 social workers and 12 education staff1 were interviewed as part of the project. Participants came from two geographical regions, one large city and one provincial region.
Criteria for selection
Children aged between 6 and 15 years, being in care two or more years, enrolled in a mainstream school were eligible to be selected; unless the site manager or social worker felt they were currently in a complex situation that would make engagement challenging for them.
Recruitment of children
Initial contact was made through the Oranga Tamariki site managers at two sites. These sites were nominated in consultation with senior staff at national office (Deputy Chief Executives, Regional Managers and General Managers) to help facilitate the engagements. Individual participants were then identified by site managers and social workers who generated a list of children from their site that met the criteria and who they believed would be interested in taking part in the interviews.
A social worker known to the child made contact with them and their caregiver and/or parents to provide information about the interviews and invite the child to participate. The social worker provided child-friendly information sheets to potential participants, along with information sheets for their parents/guardians/caregivers and social workers (see Appendix A).
The information sheets covered the purpose of the interviews and the relevant ethical considerations such as confidentiality, privacy and consent, including consent for audio recording. Social Workers read through the information sheet with the child to ensure they understood it and to answer any questions they had.
Prior to taking part in the interviews, young people aged 15 years and under required written informed consent from the person who had custody of them. Young people aged 9 – 15 years also gave written consent and had an opportunity at the beginning of the interview to give their verbal assent.
Children aged seven – nine years gave their assent to their parent or guardian, caregiver or social worker. They were also given the opportunity at the beginning of the interview to give their verbal assent. Caregivers were informed throughout the process. All children received a koha of a $20 Warehouse voucher at the end of the interview.
Recruitment of caregivers
Social workers were asked to identify caregivers who they believed would be interested in participating in the interviews. In some cases these were the caregivers of children who were also being interviewed, in other cases they were caregivers who were keen to participate but did not necessarily care for children involved in the project. The social worker provided caregivers with information sheets, discussed the project with them and answered any initial questions. The information sheets covered the purpose of the interviews and the relevant ethical considerations such as confidentiality, privacy and consent, including consent for audio recording.
As we were not directly triangulating data it was not necessary to only interview caregivers who were caring for the children we were also interviewing. Any caregiver who had experiences of supporting a school-aged child was eligible to take part in the interviews. Caregivers were asked to sign a consent form prior to their involvement in the interviews. They were also given the opportunity at the beginning of the interview to ask any questions and confirm their agreement to be involved. All caregivers received a koha of a $25 Warehouse voucher at the end of the interview.
Recruitment of social workers
Site managers at each of the sites identified social workers to support the project. This support included social workers being interviewed for the project. Site managers shared information sheets and consent forms with social workers and they were also given the details of the project leader to contact with any further questions. Social workers were asked to sign a consent form prior to their involvement in the interviews. They were also given the opportunity at the beginning of the interview to ask any questions and confirm their agreement to be involved.
Recruitment of education staff
Social workers shared information sheets with all of the schools that had children attending who had been selected for the study. The project leader then contacted the principals of these schools to provide additional information and invite staff who had experience of teaching and/or supporting children in care to be interviewed for the project. The principal shared the information sheets and consent forms with staff who expressed an interest in being involved. The project leader then liaised with the principal to arrange times for the staff interviews.
Education staff were asked to sign a consent form prior to their involvement in the interviews. They were also given the opportunity at the beginning of the interview to ask any questions and confirm their agreement to be involved.
An internal ethics assessment of this project was completed by the Voices of Children and Young People team and peer-reviewed by the Oranga Tamariki Research and Synthesis team in May 2018. A total of 45 interviews were conducted. Most interviews were with individuals, but in some cases people were interviewed in pairs or a group of three. On two occasions two siblings were interviewed together. On three occasions two education staff were interviewed together and on one occasion two social workers were interviewed together. Three children were interviewed with their caregivers.
Interviews were conducted in a range of locations. This was to accommodate the needs of the people being interviewed and to increase their ability to access the interview. Participants were given the opportunity to state where they would like to be interviewed. Interview locations included the Oranga Tamariki site office, child or caregiver’s home, school or a community centre.
Interview design and rationale
The interviews were semi-structured and were designed to allow participants to share their stories of being a child in care and their experience of school or of supporting children in care with their education. The interviews were based on the eight key research questions and five interviews guides were designed for the differing groups being interviewed (children age 6-8 years, children aged 9 years and over, caregivers, social workers and education staff). Examples of the interview guides can be found in Appendix B. All the interviews started with introductory questions to help participants feel at ease. At the end of the interviews all participants were asked if they wanted to add to or change any of their responses and if there was anything else they would like to say. The interview guides were written by members of the Voices of Children and Young People Team and were peer reviewed by other members of the team.
Interviews were carried out by five Oranga Tamariki senior advisors. All interviewers had previous experience with engaging with children and were not personally known to any of the participants. Interviews varied in length but were planned for up to an hour for adult interviews and up to 45 minutes for children’s interviews.
At the beginning of the interviews the purpose of the interview was outlined to participants and they were all asked if they had received previous information about the interview and the process. Participants were again asked if they wanted to take part in the interviews. Some adult participants had previously signed a consent form that had been shared with them by a social worker or a member of the research team. For any that had not completed a consent form prior to the interview they were asked to complete it at the beginning of the interview. Age-appropriate scripts were used to help explain the purpose of the interviews.
For the interviews the interview guides were used and notes were taken by the second interviewer. An audio recorder was also used to record the interviews for transcribing. For the interviews with children a range of materials were used to help engage them in the discussion and share their views. This included art materials and children’s games.
Participant rights and pastoral support plan
At the beginning of the interviews all participants were given the opportunity to opt out of the interviews. For children it was explained to them in an age appropriate way that they did not have to take part and the alternative to taking part was described to them. Children under the age of nine were also shown a visual prompt of symbols showing thumbs up and thumbs down sign and they could point to the signs to indicate if they wanted to continue or opt out. These signs were discussed with the child to ensure they understood their meaning.
One child did choose to opt out. He expressed this by shaking his head and pointing to the thumbs down sign. The interviewer then walked with the child back to class and explained to the teacher that he had opted out and no longer wanted to be involved. The teacher reinforced that it was okay for him to opt out and gave him options of activities to take part in instead.
While not raising safety concerns, two children expressed information that the interviewers felt needed to be followed up on. In both cases the child was asked if they agreed to the interviewer talking to an adult and they were informed of which adult. Information was discussed with a senior member of staff in school who had responsibility for pastoral care of the child.
One child became upset during the interview. The audio recording was stopped and the participant was given a break and a drink and was asked if she wanted to continue. She chose to continue and the audio recorder was started again. Throughout the remainder of the interview the participant was asked if she felt she wanted to continue and the interviewers also used behavioural cues to assess her emotional wellbeing.
A key adult that could be available for the child prior to and after the interview was identified. For all children the key adult was a caregiver, social worker or teacher. The key adult helped prepare the child for the interview and shared information with them about the purpose of the interview and what to expect. They were also given the opportunity to let the interviewers know about any specific needs the child had that might need to be planned for prior to the interview. For example, some children chose to be interviewed in a self-chosen location, for one child the interview was adapted to allow for his difficulties with attention and concentration. During the interview all children were offered refreshments and breaks.
Feedback to participants
Verbal feedback was provided to social workers during the week following the engagements. In the following months, social workers, educators and caregivers who participated in interviews received written feedback, which summarised key findings across the study. A tailored pamphlet was also developed for children and young people who participated in interviews. Social workers in each region made this feedback available to participants.
Each transcript was imported into a Nvivo project and coded to a case with location and participant group attributes (child, caregiver, social worker, educator). Each transcript was coded to a set of 15 themes. Some of these themes were developed to capture data in response to particular research questions (interview questions). Other themes emerged from the data (i.e. data-driven).
Six themes related to children’s experiences of education emerged from this data:
- Stigma and bullying.
- Changing schools.
- Extra-curricular activities.
- Learning and behavioural needs.
- Relationships with peers.
- Relationships with adults.
In addition, further themes relating to engagement, achievements and outcomes emerged:
- Impact of adult relationships on experiences of education.
- Supporting achievement in education.
- Experiences of exclusion and pathways to re-engagement.
- Impact of education on longer-term outcomes.
Presentation of findings
A summary of each theme is presented at the beginning of each section and this is then discussed and supported with verbatim comments that offer evidence, examples and give voice to the experiences of children in care. Children and young people’s comments are highlighted in pink boxes throughout the report to give prominence to their voice. At times, in grey boxes, we draw together a number of excerpts from one interview transcript to provide a more detailed example.
Part 2: Review of New Zealand government data
The Oranga Tamariki Analytics and Insights, and Actuarial teams analysed data from the IDI to gain insight into the relationships between care experience and educational engagement and achievement, as well as how educational achievement might relate to longer term life outcomes.
Populations of interest
The educational engagement analyses looked at children and young people who were aged between 5 and 17 years as at 30 June 2017. Comparisons were made between children and young people recorded in the IDI as having:
- a current out-of-home1 care placement (N = 3,057)
- spent over two years altogether in out-of-home care placements in their lifetime (N = 5,493)
- no care experience in their lifetime (N = 799,278).
The achievement analyses focused on the secondary school achievement of young people who were aged between 18 and 19 years as at 30 June 2017. Comparisons were made between those recorded in the IDI as having:
- an out-of-home care placement at any point in their lives (N = 3,243)
- spent over two years altogether in out-of-home care placements in their lifetime (N = 1,149)
- no care experience in their lifetime (N = 117,882).
The longer term outcomes looked at the population of children and young people who were aged 16 years and under as at 30 June 2017. Using a forecasting model developed by the Oranga Tamariki Actuarial team (referred to as ‘the Wellbeing Model’), comparisons were made between those who had, or were likely to have in the future:
4. an out-of-home care placement at some point in their lives
5. no care experience in their lifetime.
This report presents descriptive statistics for engagement, achievement, and long-term outcome indicators for each population of interest. The overall results are described, along with the results separated by age, gender, and ethnicity.
Ethnicity was prioritised in the order of Māori, Pacific, European/Other, except that if a young person was recorded in the IDI as both Māori and Pacific, they were categorised as a separate ‘Māori and Pacific’ group. Sources of self-reported ethnicity in the IDI were used.
Note that formal significance testing was not completed, and only numerical differences and trends are described. When the numerical differences are large (>10%), they are referred to as being higher/lower than the comparison group. Smaller differences are described where there are relatively consistent patterns across the data, and are referred to as ‘slightly’ higher/lower. However, the sample sizes of the groups are large and likely to be representative of the populations of interest.
Integrated Data Infrastructure disclaimer
It is important to note that the results in this document are not official statistics. They have been created for research purposes from the IDI, managed by Statistics New Zealand. The opinions, findings, recommendations, and conclusions expressed in this document are those of the author(s), not Statistics New Zealand. Note that while the analyses were conducted by the Oranga Tamariki Analytics & Insights and Actuarial teams, staff from the Oranga Tamariki Voices of Children and Young People team wrote the report content.
Access to the anonymised data used in this study was provided by Statistics NZ in accordance with security and confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act 1975. Only people authorised by the Statistics Act 1975 are allowed to see data about a particular person, household, business, or organisation, and the results in this document have been confidentialised to protect these groups from identification.
Careful consideration has been given to the privacy, security, and confidentiality issues associated with using administrative and survey data in the IDI. Further detail can be found in the Privacy Impact Assessment for the Integrated Data Infrastructure available from www.stats.govt.nz.
Part 3: Literature scan
A search for peer-reviewed and grey literature was conducted using several academic databases and Google Scholar. Because of the large number of articles and reports focussing on the academic achievement and engagement of care-experienced children and young people, only systematic and narrative reviews were included for these topic areas. For articles and reports that explored the educational experiences of care-experienced children and young people, individual studies or reports (e.g., cross-sectional and observational studies) were included alongside systematic and narrative reviews. In total, 49 articles and reports were included in the final literature scan.
Part 1: Voices of children in care in Aotearoa New Zealand
Results from Part 1 explore six core topics relating to children's experiences of education.
Key findings from the research indicate that children and young people in care can:
- often experience exclusion and disciplinary action, which appears to increase with age; the pathway to exclusions and disciplinary actions can often be due to difficulties with peer relationships or exhibiting challenging behaviours
- find academic achievement more difficult, this is particularly evident in measures such as National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)
- experience frequent changes of school, which can negatively impact on their learning, social skills and relationships
- experience learning difficulties, which require access to learning support
- experience stigmatisation from peers and adults, which can lead to bullying and wanting to manage how information about them is shared
- benefit from the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities; however they require support to access these activities, including access to resources and caregivers having time to enable their engagement
- benefit from relationships with adults, such as teachers, social workers and caregivers, who have high aspirations for their learning and who are involved in their education.
Part 2: Review of New Zealand government data
Data from Part 2 shows that early intervention with children and young people in care can be beneficial to their educational outcomes.
While children and young people with care experience have higher rates of educational disengagement and lower rates of educational achievement compared to their peers with no care experience, these differences are less evident in younger children and appear to become more evident as children age.
Part 3: Literature scan
Part 3 of the research project – the literature scan – found that achievement gaps between care-experienced children and young people and their peers were relatively large and persistent across a number of areas, including literacy, numeracy, qualification achievement, attendance, and suspension and exclusion rates. Some of the literature placed a high value on extra-curricular activities, given that participation in these activities provides an opportunity to build young people’s social and support networks.