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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 and development outcomes. These strategies elaborate on the ‘promising approaches’ outlined in AERO’s family engagement for early learning practice guides (which target early childhood services with 3 to 5 year-olds).

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 and development. 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 be situated 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 concern 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 service level (Craig 2016). Also, as a staff member at a service, 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 and development (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). 

Promising approaches

Recognising and supporting family engagement in learning at home

Families who feel they are working in partnership with their child’s service 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 early intervention services and supports, for example, in the areas of mental and physical health and education. 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 and development

Effective two-way communication draws on the combined knowledge and expertise of both families and educators, teachers and service leaders about children’s learning needs and their development.  

Considerations, strategies and reflection questions

Promoting a literacy-rich environment at home

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.

Considerations, strategies and reflection questions

Collaboratively planning and problem solving with families

Collaborative planning and problem-solving between families and educators, teachers and service leaders has been shown to improve children’s early learning and development. It can also ensure that everyone is using a consistent approach for addressing a child’s unique learning and development needs.

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

We’ve released case studies looking at family engagement in different early childhood education and care settings.

Family engagement for early learning

Family engagement is important throughout early childhood education and care. There is a great deal of evidence that families play a critical role in their child’s learning and development.

References

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