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Foster Care and Aftercare Findings
•	 Foster Care placements not matching child’s needs hindered.
•	 Low quality temporary...
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Matheson, I. (2015). Thesis on a page: Slipping down ladders and climbing up snakes - the experiences of New Zealand University students who were formerly in foster care

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Education has the potential to make a significant contribution towards improving the life-chances of children and young people in state care. However, despite a growing overseas body of research literature on the education of children and young people in residential and foster care, very little is known about the educational experiences, perspectives or circumstances of those in, or formerly in, care in New Zealand. Internationally, we still know very little about the experiences of the small proportion of young people with a state care background who go to university.
This study investigates the educational experiences of New Zealand bachelor degree students and recent graduates who were placed in foster care as teenagers. Through the lenses of the children’s rights, ecological systems theory, resilience theory and cultural capital theory, this qualitative study involved in-depth interviews, as well as follow-up telephone interviews, with seven bachelor degree students or graduates with a state care background. Using an informal conversational interviewing technique, the study explores their experiences of primary schooling, secondary schooling, university, foster care, leaving care, family, partners, friends and the community, as well as their associated feelings, motivations, views and attitudes.
Despite some similarities with others in care, the study finds that participants came into care with considerable cultural capital, were educationally resilient, were able to make important educational relationships and take advantage of opportunities presented to them. They mainly came into care as teenagers, having already done well in their earlier schooling. All went on to complete their high school education at what they considered to be good schools. All embarked upon a professional degree, mainly in social work, education or law. Multiple foster care placements and, with some exceptions, getting little educational support from foster carers or social workers was not a barrier to them getting to university. Similarly, while educationally resilient, most were less resilient in other areas of their lives. However, the level of support from teachers and/or other school personnel was high and sometimes exceptionally high. To varying degrees once at university, the majority struggled. However, there was support from former foster carers, long-term partners, and in some instances parents.

This research has particular education and child welfare policy and practice implications for New Zealand. However, as one of the few international qualitative studies with tertiary students with a foster care background to take such a wide-ranging and exploratory approach, the findings may also be of relevance to practitioners, managers, researchers and policy-makers in other countries.

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Matheson, I. (2015). Thesis on a page: Slipping down ladders and climbing up snakes - the experiences of New Zealand University students who were formerly in foster care

  1. 1. Foster Care and Aftercare Findings • Foster Care placements not matching child’s needs hindered. • Low quality temporary Foster Care placements, and breakdowns, as well as poor relationships with Social Workers and limited Child, Youth & Family education support, hindered. • High quality, educationally rich and supportive final Foster Care placements helped. • Being discharged from Foster Care placement by 17th birthday hindered. • (Non-statutory) transitioning to independence services helped, if available. Main Findings on Family, Friends, Partners and Community • Education being valued by, and ongoing support from, birth families helped. • Having a good circle of friends at secondary school helped. • Partners whilst at university being supportive of education helped. Main Findings on Personal Circumstances • Wanting a different kind of future, be it ordinary or extraordinary, helped. • Having a sense of educational resilience, and secondary school feeling like a place of belonging and stability, helped. • Serendipitous events, and acts of extraordinary generosity, helped. Education Findings • Early establishment of recreational reading habits helped. • Academic success by intermediate (junior high) school helped. • Limited secondary school changes, and none in final years, helped. • Significant periods without schooling for some hindered. • A perception that their final secondary school was high quality helped. • Supportive relationships with individual secondary school staff helped. • Attending a local university helped; and all undertook professional degrees. • Scholarships/awards for university helped, but limited to first year hindered. Study’s Overall Findings 1. Kiwi kids in Foster Care can and do go on to university; some also graduate. 2. Being in Foster Care helped some participants get to university, but hindered others. 3. Distinct patterns across experiences, but some similarities with others in Foster Care. 4. Life in Foster Care is complex; some events had unintended consequences for participants – both negative and positive. Implications for Research, Policy and Practice Research: Internationally, as well as for NZ, the study identifies a number of areas for further research, e.g. parental education and cultural capital. Policy: Tertiary institutions to support students with a care background via additional support, students to be allowed to remain in foster care beyond their 17th birthday, all foster care placements to be educationally-rich, and all children in care to receive a quality education. Practice: Support teachers, social workers and foster carers to reflect upon and develop their practice around (the education of) children in care. Further Information The Experiences of New Zealand University Students Formerly in Foster Care As events are about to show, it is also possible to slither down a ladder and climb to triumph on the venom of a snake (Rushdie, 1981, p. 161). Research Study Author & Year Iain Matheson (2015) Supervisors Emeritus Professor Anne Smith Dr Gill Rutherford Doctoral (EdD) Programme University of Otago College of Education Research Question What are the educational experiences of degree students who were in foster care as teenagers? Guiding Education Theories • Children’s rights movement • Ecological systems theory • Resilience theory • Cultural capital theory Methodology • Paradigm: Constructivism • Methodology: Qualitative • Data collection: In-depth interview, follow-up telephone interview • Data analysis: Thematic analysis Successful Participant Recruitment Methods • Approaching child welfare NGOs • Indirectly approaching winners of tertiary awards for children in care • Participant recruitment website • Personal contacts Research Participants • All 7 were degree students (1 had graduated at time of interview) • Aged 18 to 26 (when interviewed) • 6 university and 1 polytechnic • 6 female and 1 male • Mix of ethnicities © Iain Matheson, 2015 And Climbing Up Snakes Slipping Down Ladders