Children and youth in the care of the provincial government are academically falling behind in the school system, according to a child advocacy report released this week.
Bernard Richard, B.C.’s new representative for children and youth, said a lack of education support is being blamed for students under government care lagging far behind their classmates, outlined in a report titled Room For Improvement: Toward Better Education Outcomes for Children in Care.
“All young people, no matter what their life circumstances, need to be given the knowledge and tools to succeed in their education,” Richard said.
Statistics compiled by the ministry of education for the report show that children and youth in continuing care generally trail well behind other students on most academic measures.
Such achievement disparities are often exacerbated when the student in continuing care is indigenous or has a special need.
In the 2014-15 school year, only 34 per cent of B.C. Grade 7 students in continuing care met or exceeded expectations in numeracy. This compares to nearly 73 per cent of other students.
Among Grade 10 students in the same year, 39.5 per cent of students under government care earned marks of C-plus or better in science, compared to 71 per cent of all other students.
Fewer than 51 per cent of B.C. students in continuing care who began Grade 8 in 2009-10 graduated within six years. This compares to nearly 80 per cent of the rest of students in the province for the same time period.
“Students in government care often under-perform in school due to life circumstances, such as overcoming trauma or instability early on in their lives. They need extra support to succeed academically, but too often those supports are not available.”
Richard said while it is positive the government has waived tuition fees for government care students seeking a post-secondary education, it doesn’t matter much if they are not academically qualified to continue their education.
Richard cited the Ontario provincial government’s move to spend $21 million over the next three years on resources to overcome education disparities, creating a liaison office for children in government care.
In his agency’s report, Richard advocates for a similar move to take place in B.C., with five overall recommendations targeted both at the ministry of education and also the ministry of children and family development.
Those recommendations include more funding for classroom support initiatives, closer attention paid to how government care students are progressing through the school system, assessing these students for the effects of trauma they may be suffering and allowing foster parents rather than social workers to sign permission slips for school field trips.
Richard says as parents do everything they can to help their children succeed in school, so should the government for kids with broken family lives.
“If these students succeed, we all benefit. Otherwise, we are setting them up for failure,” said Richard, citing issues such as poverty, inadequate housing and domestic strife that place them at a disadvantage.
He also noted Indigenous children are over-represented in the child welfare care system, being eight per cent of all youth under the age of 18 in B.C., but 61 per cent of that age group under government care.
Specific actions that Indigenous youth noted in the report include a presence of more band elders in their school environment, more indigenous teachers in schools and better learning connections to their own aboriginal cultures.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said the falling level of student achievement for those in government care situations “is unacceptable to me.”
“The gaps are even much further for Indigenous students under care of the province, so we must do more to help all these students transition to lead successful adult lives,” Fleming said.
He noted $500 million has been injected in new funding to B.C.’s school system in 2017, largely the result of a court ruling on negotiated class sizes won by the BC Teachers Federation, which resulted in a wave of new teacher and support staff hiring for the current school year.
“We have opportunities in place with the influx of new funding, that I have put the challenge out to the school district superintendents across the province to use our resources to drive better outcomes for these students,” Fleming said.
“We need to utilize these resources, remove barriers that might be in place, such as kids missing out on field trips because a social worker isn’t available to sign a permission slip when needed, to allow this group of vulnerable kids to lead lives like other kids in school.”
In compiling the report, the Representative for Children and Youth gathered input from more than 1,200 individuals in the school and care systems, including 162 youth in and from care, 497 teachers, 149 social workers and 121 foster parents.
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