Samantha Donovan (ABC)
- ABC PM 11 March 2015
MARK COLVIN: Abuse or neglect in foster care can be just the start of some children's disadvantage in life.
A study out today has confirmed that when they leave care, they're far less likely to make it to university than the general population.
The La Trobe University researchers found the problem was made worse by the dearth of statistics on care leavers once they reach adulthood.
Samantha Donovan reports.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The La Trobe University researchers estimate that only 1 per cent of Australians coming out of foster or residential care make it to university. Dr Andrew Harvey.
ANDREW HARVEY: One of the things that's important here is the bigotry of low expectations. And the fact that people often don't expect care leavers to go onto higher education, often don't teach them that higher education is even an option - this kind of cultural factor is equally important in some cases.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Who is showing that what you call "soft bigotry" towards these children?
ANDREW HARVEY: It comes throughout the whole sector, so often there will be carers or people in the community service organisations who may not think that the care leavers have the capacity to go onto higher education. It will be governments, it will be universities.
There are very few university policies, for instance, to try to recruit this cohort. There are very few universities that have specific supports for this cohort. So it's not a deliberate action, and in many cases it's well-meaning across the sector, but the focus has been on the security, health, welfare and getting through school, rather than higher education.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: But Dr Andrew Harvey says the United Kingdom has increased the number of care leavers going to uni from 1 per cent to 7 per cent in just a decade.
And he believes the same can be done here.
ANDREW HARVEY: So the UK has essentially established care leavers as a student equity group. The universities now collect data on a number of care leavers and they track those students through the system.
The office of fair access have access agreements with each university, and around 50 or 60 institutions have specific care leaver policies within those access agreements. Typically they'll have a care coordinator appointed within university - a person that anyone from care can see about additional academic support.
They'll have outreach activities into schools and into community service organisations to try to recruit and attract care leaders.
And all of that is supported by further research and evidence that is drawn on the data and the evidence that they now collect.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Dr Harvey says that compared to Australia, the UK has the advantage of more united health and education sectors.
ANDREW HARVEY: They don't have federal problems that we have with commonwealth and state governments and departments of health and education. So it has been easier to establish there.
But there's been a third party called the Buttle Foundation, which is an advocate for care leaders, that's also played an instrumental role. And there was a research report in the UK in 2004 that also tracked care leavers and brought their voices to the experience.
So there's been a range of voices across the sector that's been involved, and essentially universities have bought into that agenda now. And it's now established in the higher education collection of data, established across the sector, and all of these institutions now have specific policies.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Andrew Harvey says Australia must start gathering better statistics on the progress of young people who've been in foster or residential care.
One possibility is the linking of child protection data with the national assessment program, NAPLAN.
ANDREW HARVEY: So there is some collaboration at school level and at below-18 level amongst the data agencies across Australia. The problem really is that there's very little that happens post-18.
So when people move out of care and they turn 18, they typically have little support from the state corporate parent. The formal responsibility ends and then we lose them.
We don't keep track of them, we don't know whether they go into higher education, we don't follow their pathway. And this is very different from the United Kingdom and even from states in the United States, where care leavers often receive support after 18, sometimes up to 25.
And that continual support means that we can support them to get into university or whatever other careers that they choose, and also then we can get much better evaluation and monitoring of those pathways.
So the problem is not so much the absence of data, it's that it stops at 18 at the moment in Australia.
MARK COLVIN: Dr Andrew Harvey from La Trobe University ending Samantha Donovan's report.