Australia’s national education evidence body

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers

Family engagement for learning is related to Focus Area 3.7 and Focus Area 7.3 from the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

Australian Professional Standards for Principals

Family engagement for learning is related to 'Professional Practice 5 Engaging and working with the community' in the Australian Professional Standards for Principals.
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There is a great deal of evidence that families play a critical role in their child’s learning. This resource details strategies for engaging with families of children in out-of-home care (OOHC) to support children’s learning outcomes. These strategies elaborate on the ‘promising approaches’ outlined in AERO’s family engagement for learning practice guides.

Context

While the practice guides outline promising practices from the research evidence for engaging with families generally, few studies have measured the effects of different strategies for engaging with families of children in OOHC to support learning. This resource, therefore, offers starting points for what promising approaches for family engagement could look like in relation to children in OOHC. 

Children who are unable to live in their family home may reside in short-term, medium-term or permanent OOHC. Each living situation may look different, but could include: 

  • foster care – when a child is cared for by a foster carer with formal training and approval
  • relative/kin care – when a child is cared for by a relative or family friend
  • residential/group home care – when a child is cared for in a home staffed by carers.

For all AERO family engagement resources, ‘families’ includes biological parents, legal guardians, adoptive parents, kin carers and out-of-home (foster) carers. Within the context of this document, we use the term ‘family’ to describe a child’s current legal guardians, while specifying a child’s ‘birth family’ as needed. A child’s ‘home’ refers to their current living arrangement, which includes any permanent arrangements away from their biological family, a temporary carer arrangement, or a group home.

In some circumstances, there may be a goal to reunite children with their birth family. In these cases, any communication with the birth family around their child’s learning should be discussed with the child’s current legal guardians. 

Reasons for OOHC placement

Children may be living in OOHC for various reasons, including: 

  • their primary carer (such as their birth family) has voluntarily requested support from their local child protection jurisdiction 
  • child safety concerns exist, such as the presence or risk of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect. 

It is important to understand that many children enter OOHC with existing experiences of trauma, on top of the potentially traumatic experience of changes in their household. Children may particularly benefit from trauma-informed, strengths-based approaches coordinated at the school level (Craig 2016). Also, as a staff member at a school, it is important to consider the privacy of key information shared with you to help support children in OOHC.

Nationally, the rate of children and young people in OOHC has remained at 8 in 1,000 children from 2017 to 2020 (AIHW 2021). Studies have shown that children growing up in this setting may require additional support in their learning (Townsend 2011). Effective engagement with families is critical to support learning for these important-to-reach children.

Learning impact

Language and literacy difficulties are highly prevalent in children in OOHC, and this is not restricted to one type of care arrangement (Trout et al. 2008). Language and neurodevelopmental disorders are strongly over-represented in OOHC children (Snow et al. 2020). Disrupted schooling is also a common feature of the lives of children in OOHC, which has academic implications, and can also lead to a lack of school engagement (Fine et al. 2018).

Promising approaches

Recognising and supporting family engagement in learning at home

Families who feel they are working in partnership with their child’s school can be more likely to engage in practices to support learning at home. 

Children in OOHC, depending on the state or territory in which they are based, may also have access to additional education supports, such as education officers and private tutoring.  Contact your state education department or child protection department for more information on what services may be available.

Considerations, strategies and reflection questions

Supporting two-way, positive communication and providing light touch updates about learning

Effective two-way communication draws on the knowledge and expertise of both families and teachers about children’s learning needs and their development. Light touch updates from schools to families about student learning improve students’ academic achievement, particularly for students at risk of falling behind.   

Considerations, strategies and reflection questions

Promoting a literacy-rich environment at home (Primary school students)

A literacy-rich environment is where language in various forms (like talking, listening, reading, storytelling and visual arts) is part of daily life. This type of environment allows children to practice their literacy skills often, in functional ways. One specific way schools can support a literacy-rich environment at home is by promoting shared reading. 

Considerations, strategies and reflection questions

Collaboratively planning and problem solving with families

Collaborative planning and problem-solving between families, students and school staff has been shown to improve students’ academic outcomes. Collaborative planning could involve working together with families and students to identify students’ individual goals (for example, around developing reading skills or transitioning smoothly from primary to secondary school), as well as strategies for achieving these goals. 

Considerations, strategies and reflection questions

For more information

We have further guidance, including practice guides, case studies:

Engaging with families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

This resource details strategies for engaging families from culturally diverse backgrounds, families with English as an additional language, and families from refugee backgrounds.

Snapshots of practice

Family engagement may look different in different contexts. We've released several case study examples of how schools and services support family engagement.

Family engagement for learning

There is a great deal of evidence that families play a critical role in their child’s learning. Family engagement is important throughout all stages of schooling, but strategies may look different at different stages.

References

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