British Education Journal: Systematic review of educational interventions for looked-after children and young people: Recommendations for intervention development and evaluation

JOURNAL ARTICLE

Authors: Rhiannon Evans, Rachel Brown, Gwyther Rees and Philip Smith

Year: 2017

Summary: 

Looked-after children and young people (LACYP) are educationally disadvantaged compared to the general population. A systematic review was conducted of randomised controlled trials evaluating interventions aimed at LACYP aged ≤18 years. Restrictions were not placed on delivery setting or delivery agent. Intervention outcomes were: academic skills; academic achievement and grade completion; special education status; homework completion; school attendance, suspension, and drop-out; number of school placements; teacher-student relationships; school behaviour; and academic attitudes. Fifteen studies reporting on 12 interventions met the inclusion criteria. Nine interventions demonstrated tentative impacts. However, evidence of effectiveness could not be ascertained due to variable methodological quality, as appraised by the Cochrane risk of bias tool. Theoretical and methodological recommendations are provided to enhance the development and evaluation of educational interventions.

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Educational Interventions for Children and Young People in Care: A Review of Outcomes, Implementation and Acceptability

This chapter reviewed the best available evidence on educational interventions intended to improve educational outcomes for children and young people who have resided in care.

Children and young people in care in Wales have poorer educational outcomes than the general population. For example, only 23% of young people in care in Wales achieve five GCSEs (Grade A*–C), compared to 60% of those not in care .

Every opportunity should be taken to ensure good educational outcomes for children and young people who spend time in care. But how can this best be done? We undertook an international review of high-quality evaluations (published in English) of educational interventions that try to answer this question. The review found only 12 interventions. Two studies were conducted in the UK, while the others were from the US or Canada.

The interventions were diverse in the individuals they targeted, the people who delivered them, and the method of delivery. For example, the Letterbox Club involved sending educational materials to children aged 7 to 11 in foster care in Northern Ireland. In contrast, a Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care intervention in the US provided specialist foster care for females aged 13 to 17 years old who had been in the juvenile justice system. The interventions also targeted different outcomes, including school attendance, behaviour at school, homework completion, academic skills and academic achievement.

The findings from these interventions were mixed. For example, there was some evidence of improved academic skills in early childhood. Two of four studies that measured school attendance found evidence of benefits. However, two studies that measured academic achievement did not find improvements. These findings should be treated with caution as the quality of most studies was weak.

It is clear we still have much to learn about improving the educational outcomes of children and young people who spend time in care. In particular, none of the intervention evaluations were conducted in Wales. As care systems and populations differ across contexts and countries, it is important that we develop and evaluate interventions locally.

As part of the wider study, which this review supported, researchers asked children and young people in Wales with experience of care what types of educational interventions they want. Generally, they preferred targeted interventions to be provided by their carers, rather than introducing more professionals into their lives. They also acknowledged the risk that targeted interventions could be stigmatising. Therefore, it may be better to think of interventions that may be effective for a wider group of children who need additional support with their education, whether or not they spend time in care.

Chapter 3

Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales

This is the latest blog in a series relating to the recently released book “Children and Young People ‘Looked After’? Education, Intervention and the Everyday Culture of Care in Wales”. Over the next few weeks we will be uploading blog posts from chapter authors in the lead up to the launch event for the book. Tickets to the launch are available here.