Tracing the impact of Out of Care, Into University: Raising higher education access and achievement of care leavers
Kitty Drok for the NCSEHE
In 2014, the NCSEHE provided funding to La Trobe University’s Centre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity Research (CHEEDR; then known as the Access and Achievement Research Unit, or AARU) to map the Australian higher education sector in relation to people from out-of-home care backgrounds, including kinship care, foster care and residential care. At the time, care leavers were not specifically recognised as an equity group in higher education in Australia.
The $64,000 mixed-methods project was led by Associate Professor Andrew Harvey, Director of CHEEDR, and included a review of the national and international literature on out-of-home care and higher education; an examination of national data sets; an online survey of public universities in Australia; and interviews with senior representatives from major out-of-home care service providers.
The project sought to map higher education for care leavers (i.e. those who had spent time in out-of-home care prior to 18 years old and who had subsequently transitioned out of the system) to increase the visibility of this group, and to provide a strong information base for future policy and research.
Published in March 2015, the final report Out of Care, Into University: Raising higher education access and achievement of care leavers identified care leavers as a critically under-represented group in Australian higher education and a priority area for action.
As detailed in the report, around 40,000 children are estimated to require out-of-home care in Australia, and this number has risen every year over the past decade (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2014). These children are one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged social groups, with many facing compound disadvantage. State-level data suggest that a large proportion of young people in out-of-home care are from low socio-economic status and regional backgrounds (State Government of Victoria, 2012). Young people with disabilities are also over-represented in care (Mendes, Snow, & Broadley, 2013). Nationally, the rate of Indigenous children in out-of-home care is 10.6 times the rate for non-Indigenous children (AIHW, 2014).
Children in care confront specific educational challenges from an early age, and their relatively poor school outcomes have been well documented (AIHW, 2007; AIHW 2011). Care leavers rarely transition to higher education. They are largely excluded from the level of education linked to lifetime advantages, such as improved employment opportunities and earning potential (Lomax-Smith, Watson, & Webster, 2011; Norton, 2012). Despite their extremely low university participation rates, there is no national agenda for improvement. Meanwhile, for those care leavers who have, against the odds, successfully transitioned to university, there was a paucity of Australian research on examining their experiences.