Failure to Escape: A Longitudinal Study of Foster Children’s Educational Attainment

Define and give examples of the research methods used in the study: “Failure to Escape: A Longitudinal Study of Foster Children’s Educational Attainment” Summarize the research article and the tests (reading, math’s & vocabulary) which were carried out annually on different groups of children who will be identified at a later stage in the essay. The tests were undertaken in 1987, 1988 & 1989. But, however, the article was printed in June 1994 in The British Journal of Social Work. Provide an evaluation of the article (for example its content, conclusion, and mode of application) and how easy it is to apply the results to other groups.

Give examples of possible variations or other elements that could have been included in the study. Highlight any possible influences/effects the article could have had on policy, practice and procedure. Link a new policy that has been developed by Bournemouth Borough Council Social Services Department to the findings of the research. Link the findings to the 1989 Children Act. . 2 This ethnographic research sets out with a hypothesis from Essen et al (1976), St. Clare and Osborn (1987), Jackson (1988) and Heath et al (1989). The hypotheses, being that many children in the care system do not meet their educational milestones.

The researchers then attempt to investigate and find possible causes for this low achievement. This method is also known as quantitative research. However, the researchers Heath, Colton and Aldgate, use a combination of both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to complete their study, although the main research method adopted is quantitative. The researchers move from the results of the testing onto ideas and hypothesis, they then progress onto other observations such as investigating the teacher’s expectations of the children, the class of the carers and also the education of the carers themselves.

The carers were interviewed at the beginning of the study, and the teachers and pupils during the course of the study, (though it is not clear what method was used to interview). This approach is known as qualitative research. There was also other visible evidence of quantitative research in the article. For example the objects of the study (i. e. teachers, children and foster carers) were interviewed, but they didn’t have any input in the decision making.

In case of group’s whose status changed during the course of the study, for example some were so small they would have been easily identifiable, so their results were not published, and thus their confidentiality was maintained. 3 The results were presented in numeric format, with accompanying text to provide further explanation. The researchers implemented these research methods to explore the possible causes for the children’s under attainment in three main groups of children.

These were: *? Children in foster care, *? Some of the children from the above group became subject to custody orders, and ? Children who were at home, but receiving Social Work support. Findings were as follows: – ?? The children who remained in foster care did not make significant progress. ?? The children whose status changed i. e. they became subject to custody orders did not show a great improvement in their scores. There was also actually a decrease in their maths and vocabulary scores. ?? The group of children who remained at home with their own families, but still received Social Work support made quite marked progress in their reading and vocabulary skills but once again the maths scores decreased.

The study was then extended: – ?? The teachers expectations of their pupils were studied, upon examination there appeared to be an acceptable match with their students abilities. ?? Studies were also carried out to see if the social histories of the children had any effect on the children’s development. Children who were reported as having suspected child abuse or neglect performed lower than the children who were in foster care for other reasons. 4 ?? The social classes of the carer’s were scrutinized and it was visible that the class of the foster parents had no impact on the performance of the children.

The scores were also compared to the carer’s own level of education and it became noticeable that where at least one parent had a good standard of education the child performed well in both the reading and vocabulary tests. A poor standard of education could also suggest some of the carers had manual labour jobs. Therefore, another reason for the above results may be manual workers tend to work longer hours and therefore may not have as much time to spend with their children after school.

It may also be the case that these families may not be able to afford extra private tuition for their children if they are identified as having a problem in a certain area of their development. Bilton et al, 1997 (page 353) also stated “Manual workers work longer hours than people in middle-class jobs, and are less likely to be allowed time off with pay” This would limit their attendance at school meetings, for example, and also to playing an active part in their child’s education. I found the article very interesting and informative in parts.

I felt that Heath, Colton and Aldgate raised some very valid points. I also felt that it was a wise decision to only use the results of the children where no information was missing as the data could have been very misleading and confusing. 5 After studying various sections of the legal status of the children who were being studied that were highlighted in the research paper, I found that the children were coming from a wealth of differing backgrounds; for example: – Abandoned or orphaned children Deceased parents Parent(s) physically and/or mentally unable to care child

Parents not able to look child after due to own lifestyle Child beyond parental control or a young offender Child of school age but not attending school Divorced parents Twenty were of unspecified status The details mentioned above may indicate that the children may have emotional and behavioural difficulties. However, the article failed to indicate if these children (whether they were at home or in care) were receiving adequate behavioural and emotional support, such as counselling, family therapy or behaviour modification.

The last paragraph on page 246 related to children who were subject to adoption and custody orders. The section also referred to these children as being in more hopeful circumstances. 6 Nevertheless, in my past experience children in foster care do find that it takes a lot of adjustment, due in no small part to the uncertainty around the whole ethos of foster care. It has also been my experience that some children who come as short-term placements end up staying for prolonged and often indefinite periods of time.

Therefore, they can never set down roots because they feel they could be moved at any time. Those who do actually begin to settle with their family are then moved. This also takes place when the children have been adopted which also takes re-adjustment, then added to that is the realization that they will never go back to their birth families to live. The Department of Health 2000 (pg 71) also acknowledges that “children looked after can experience a range of problems at school due to the disruptions experienced prior to and during care.

These disruptions often include breaks in education. ” From my own personal experience of children who have been through these kinds of problems, the effects are more than materialistic. The scars run much deeper than that. For example emotional, social, behavioural, physical and intellectual and in many cases are lifelong memories and feelings, although they may differ in intensity over time. I was also unable to comment fully on page 246 as the paragraphs three and four were contradictory and not very clear. Paragraph three stated: – “… n none of the three tests is there any evidence for relative progress on the part of the ‘no change’ foster sub-group” 7 Paragraph four, however, stated: – ” the children were of course making absolute gains in their reading ability, vocabulary and maths, and indeed were making much the same absolute gains as the nationally average child” Heath, Colton and Aldgate (1994)

One of the other things I felt that could have been done would be to extend the study to follow the children into adulthood, and to see whether the children do in fact progress, (i. e. do any of them go on to college or university? Qualitative interviews could even be conducted that would enable them to give their first hand comments on how they felt back then, and perhaps give reasons why they felt they didn’t do so well at school. One of the recent experiences I had with a foster child in the family was that he was receiving flashbacks, that were therefore interrupting his schoolwork, but, however, it appeared to his teachers that he was daydreaming. I was also disappointed to see no evidence of the effects of the study on the schools own policy, especially as the scores were quite poor at times.

The manner in which the tests were carried out was clearly defined. But, the method used to present the scores was not very easy to understand; I felt they could have been presented in a more visual manner. (For an example, please see the next page) 8 Although there didn’t appear to be any collective improvement in the children’s scores it was likely there was some individual improvement. I was also unable to find any information regarding what the ideal national average scores were, so therefore I was unable to personally appreciate how educationally behind the children actually were.

The fact that people of different ethnic groups and children who had special needs were not included in the study made the paper and its findings not as universally applicable as they perhaps could have been. Tomlinson 1984, p. 1 also acknowledged that very little research had gone into effectual education of children from ethnic minorities. This still seemed to be the case that in 1987 when this study was started. Gillborn and Gipps 1996 (page 52) stated “Black young people are proportionately more likely to be excluded than members of other ethnic groups.

They also highlighted on page 49 of the same book that “it is comparatively recently that detailed qualitative studies have focused on multi-ethnic studies. ” Sadly, the inclusion of children from ethnic minorities was not deemed as important in this study as it possibly should have been, especially considering black children are over represented in relation to having problems at school. Some of the advantages that could arise from this type of study include the provision of grounds for more funding for facilities to improve learning outcomes, such as: – Saturday schools

After school classes Home tutoring to enable these children to reach there full potential 10 One of the disadvantages of doing this kind of study could be that the study, because of its mainly quantitative nature the wishes and feelings of the carers and children weren’t taken into account. There may possibly have been other factors influencing the results of the testing. For example, the “self-fulfilling prophecy” just because the teachers are able to accurately assess the abilities of the children doesn’t mean they are encouraged to do well or an interest is shown in them as young people.

However, later on in 1999, the Department of Health (section 3) identified that “school and carers low expectations contribute to the under achievement and failure” Another barrier of the implementation of this study into practice is that although the teachers’ expectations of their pupils were accurate, no investigations were done into the teaching ability of the teachers. The fact that the teachers were able to assess/predict how the children would perform in the test doesn’t necessarily mean that the children were being taught correctly on a day to day basis.

Therefore a longitudinal study of the teachers expectations and interaction with pupils could have been a way to extend the study and assess this possible affecting factor. This could have led to joint Social Services and education teaching updates and training days for teachers and Social Workers to enable them to keep abreast of current developments with these types of children. Closer networking with Social Services would also ensure that the child’s holistic care is taken into account and any problems or areas for concern quickly identified.

This would be child-led hence services and assessment would be of individual children, the one problem with the study as mentioned before was that all the results were grouped together so therefore there was no identification of individual improvement. When mainstream teaching was not enough then individually tailored services would be more appropriate as the focus would not be to encompass the needs of thirty plus children in a class but the individual child.

Another idea would be that as these kind of children tend to move location and Local Education Authorities more than the normal child, a regularly updated database linked to all schools would enable a swifter transfer between schools. Delayed or missing records would no longer be a problem. Other agencies would be able to tap into this information too. Bournemouth Borough Council Social Services Department have developed similar good practice guidelines which enables them to observe, assess and evaluate the educational progress of children in care.

Their plan is to have links from every school to Social Services Departments, regularly communicate statistics of each child’s progress to Social Services and Education Departments and undertake joint pro-active work with Social Services, the Local Education Authority and schools. 12 A tracking system will also be put in place, which would enable the identification of children who are struggling in the system. I feel that the above policy will allow the children’s all round information to be updated with ease.

As it has already been proved through Heath, Colton and Aldgate’s study, children in care are likely to suffer educational difficulties careful monitoring of their progress will ensure that children who have needs will be picked up quickly and monitored. This would also enable the area of need to be identified so that help could be given to enable the child to reach his/her full potential. The research, although a small study, provided the opportunity to gain knowledge into the difficulties these children face. However, due to its small nature the article didn’t receive much media attention.

Therefore, the chance that policy makers saw the details of this study was perhaps minimal. This is compounded by the fact Government tends to plough resources and funding into subjects that are in the headlines at a particular time. Therefore I believe the study should have to be at least been directed at a whole local education authority to be noticed at least by local government. For example, the maths scores were poor across the board; school policies could have been changed to include extra maths classes into the National Curriculum.

Some elements of Heath, Colton and Aldgate’s findings are also clearly reflected in the 1989 Children Act. Some of the acts main principles include: – 13 The belief that children are best looked after within their own family network. The children in the study who had remained at home with their families but still received Social Work support appeared to do better in the tests than compared to the children who were in foster care. This finding suggests that children thrive more when with their own families.

This also allows parents to receive the support they need to enable them to keep and care for their child within the family unit. This also helps to do away with the notion that Social Workers only take ones children away, and also enable professionals to work in a less oppressive way and work in partnership with families instead of directing and splitting them. I can attest that many looked after children, despite their family background, would rather live at home than be in care if given the choice

It is better for the children that any arrangements are made without involving the courts. During the time the study took place it was obvious that the children who were in care were still suffering the effects of being taken into care. Entangled in this would have been the court intervention. 14 Parents assuming responsibility for their child. I feel this is a good element of the Act that parents are held accountable for the ways in which their children are looked after/ cared for. Thus giving the power back to the parents instead of removing it.

In the way partnership is restored, and in an anti-discriminatory manner. I do find this part of the act also one of the most gender discriminatory in that it stipulates that where a child’s parents are not married only the mother automatically gains parental responsibility. For men to get this they either have to go through the courts or obtain permission from the child’s mother. This implies that a father’s status, and the relationship he has with the mother is only acknowledged if they are married.

But with the high rate of divorce and people cohabiting in today’s society one would have thought that the Act would also reflect this wealth of different family structures. I have learnt that these children in foster care can be suffering from many negative as well as positive experiences that surround the set up of the foster care system. These children can suffer the effects of numerous moves of placement, and in some cases may change location altogether. This may mean leaving schools, location, families, friends, foster siblings, and familiar routines.

The lack of a familiar adult can also affect the child’s ability to form lasting relationships, and as a consequence children can also suffer low self-esteem. These problems can also lead to attachment, emotional and behavioural difficulties; this also supports and promotes barriers to learning. Clarke and Clarke (1976) found in their studies that where children had been unable to form attachments to at least one person in the first six years of their life, these children had formed attachments to foster parents.

This is to say that children can positively respond to a foster placement, so to prevent further harm there needs to be restrictions on the number of placements a child could be subjected to. Emotional and behavioural difficulties can also mask many special educational needs. Consequentially, until behaviour is modified, or some form of intervention takes place, a child’s problems can be hidden for a long time. The Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment (1999) also report “Special educational needs of some looked after children may not be identified or addressed”.

With this in mind I therefore feel that children in care should not only receive regular educational assessment and extra support, but also help from other agencies. (i. e. behavioural therapists, educational psychologists and counsellors) I am convicted that this would help to reduce the effects of exclusion as “looked after pupils are over represented amongst pupils excluded from school” (Department of Health, 1999). Therefore these children need as much positive input to enhance their chances of reaching their educational milestones and improve their life chances.

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