The educational experiences of children in care

Published: July 11, 2019

The Oranga Tamariki Voices of Children and Young People team recently led a project designed to better understand experiences of mainstream education for children and young people in care.


The Expert Advisory Panel (2015) reported that children and young people who came into contact with Child Youth and Family (CYF) had high rates of educational disengagement and under achievement. The Voices team further explored these experiences and outcomes through a qualitative study of children and young people’s experiences, a review of New Zealand government data, and a literature scan of national and international research.

This project is intended to inform policy and practice change within Oranga Tamariki as well as support and inform Ministry of Education work. It is comprised of three research reports and a summary.

Key findings

Part 1: Voices of children in care in Aotearoa New Zealand

Results from Part 1 explore six core topics relating to children's experiences of education. 

Key findings from the research indicate that children and young people in care can:

  • often experience exclusion and disciplinary action, which appears to increase with age; the pathway to exclusions and disciplinary actions can often be due to difficulties with peer relationships or exhibiting challenging behaviours
  • find academic achievement more difficult, this is particularly evident in measures such as National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)
  • experience frequent changes of school, which can negatively impact on their learning, social skills and relationships
  • experience learning difficulties, which require access to learning support
  • experience stigmatisation from peers and adults, which can lead to bullying and wanting to manage how information about them is shared
  • benefit from the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities; however they require support to access these activities, including access to resources and caregivers having time to enable their engagement
  • benefit from relationships with adults, such as teachers, social workers and caregivers, who have high aspirations for their learning and who are involved in their education.

Part 2: Review of New Zealand government data

Data from Part 2 shows that early intervention with children and young people in care can be beneficial to their educational outcomes.

While children and young people with care experience have higher rates of educational disengagement and lower rates of educational achievement compared to their peers with no care experience, these differences are less evident in younger children and appear to become more evident as children age.

Part 3: Literature scan

Part 3 of the research project – the literature scan – found that achievement gaps between care-experienced children and young people and their peers were relatively large and persistent across a number of areas, including literacy, numeracy, qualification achievement, attendance, and suspension and exclusion rates. Some of the literature placed a high value on extra-curricular activities, given that participation in these activities provides an opportunity to build young people’s social and support networks.

Part 4: Summary of key findings

Part 4 summarises the key findings from the three research reports. A deeper understanding of the educational experiences of children in care is available by consulting the full reports.