I give courses on looked-after children and reading, and am currently writing an article about the subject, which has led me to check out the latest data on LAC in the UK. Around 90,000 children are in care at any one time. The most common reason for entering the care system is abuse or neglect. The average time spent in care is two years, but 13% stay for over five. Three quarters of LAC in England and Wales are in foster placements. Over half of LAC suffer mental health problems. Looked-after children are disproportionately likely to have special educational needs. Despite improvements over the last few years, outcomes for LAC are poorer than for their peers. This is very apparent in relation to educational achievement. 6% of care leavers went to university in 2011, compared with 38% of all young people. A third of care leavers were not in education, employment or training, compared with 13% overall.
LAC fare much less well than their peers at literacy. In 2012 67% of LAC in England achieved the expected level in reading at the end of KS1, compared to 87% of non-looked-after children. (The gap for writing achievement was higher still.) The attainment gap in English between LAC and others at the end of KS2 was even greater: 60% achieved the expected level, compared with 85% of their peers. Looked-after boys’ attainment was considerably lower than looked- after girls’ at KS1, 2 and 4. The literacy attainment levels of looked- after children with SEN are significantly lower than those of non- looked-after SEN pupils. No breakdown of figures for attainment in individual subject areas at GCSE is available, but we know just 15% of LAC gained five or more A*-C GCSEs or equivalent, as opposed to 58% of non-looked-after students. It is hard to escape the conclusion that poor literacy levels are a contributory factor to low attainment at GCSE, and to other poor outcomes for LAC. (Almost 40% of prisoners under 21 were in care as children, for instance).
There is lots that can be done to support and encourage looked-after children’s reading. Making sure they have easy access to books and other reading materials that are interesting and relevant is crucial. It’s one of the things I will be concentrating on in my article. Saving Daisy and its companion book Being Billy are two of my favourite novels featuring young people in care.