31 October 2020

Thousands of organisations across Australia have just celebrated National Children's Week.

The theme highlighted Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - the right to enjoy childhood, have friends and choose who they have friendships with.

Over my many years working in the social services sector, I reflect on the importance of educational settings for children to learn, but equally for the social connections and peer engagement it allows them.

For children in out-of-home care, educational outcomes are significantly lower than the general population and friendships can be harder to forge and maintain.

Many experience disruptions to the continuity of their education, making them more likely to withdraw from school.

The same can be said for children with disability.

As of 2015, just 41 per cent of Australian students with disability completed year 12, compared to 62 per cent of their peers without disability.

The global pandemic thrust the critical role of education and the school context into even sharper focus.

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded and schools around Australia shut their doors, families and caretakers made the difficult but necessary transition to remote learning.

We witnessed our dedicated Life Without Barriers foster carers go above and beyond to make sure children in their care had everything they needed to thrive.

We also acknowledged the integral role carers play in influencing the schooling experience of children in out-of-home care.

The Disability Royal Commission's inquiry into the education of children with disability found that COVID-19 had both highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities faced by children with disability.

We know many schools do a brilliant job engaging their whole school community, but these should be the norm not the exception.

Not only can education change lives, but it presents children who experience disadvantage and exclusion with the opportunity to take their place with their peers, to enjoy the benefits of social relationships, in an environment where their minds are exposed to the possibilities education offers.

Life Without Barriers has invested in the creation of an education unit to lead a national approach for our organisation so that children and young people growing up in care can reach their education potential.

As we celebrate National Children's Week, it is vital to recognise there is more we need to do to ensure these precious members of our community get the help they need to achieve the best chances in life.

Education is a pivotal platform to support that goal.

This was first published in Australian Community Media publications on 31 October 2020

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