Equity groups: Out of Home Care (OOHC) students

This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series, a project led by Dr Sally Baker. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. The literature is curated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in education. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.

The literature highlights out-of-home-care (OOHC) students as one of the most underrepresented groups in higher education (HE) (Andrewartha & Harvey, 2017; Cotton et al., 2014; 2017).  This is evident in the extremely low participation rates of OOHC students in HE (McNamara et al., 2019), their significantly low educational outcomes (Harrison, 2019) and the higher retention rates observed among care leavers in HE (Cotton et al., 2014). Research shows that there are many factors that contribute towards the marginalisation of OOHC students in HE. There is a strong consensus in the literature on the paucity of research regarding care leavers in HE, including their transition and educational experiences (Andrewartha & Harvey, 2017; Harvey et al., 2016). In addition, at the federal level, OOHC students are not recognised as an equity group under the Australian government’s national equity framework (Harvey et al., 2016). At the institutional level, findings from McNamara et al.’s (2016) study suggest that there is no collection of institutional data regarding the access, participation and retention of OOHC students in HE. These factors have therefore resulted in the lack of targeted policies and interventions at the federal, state and institutional levels to address the impact of the educational disadvantages experienced by OOHC students in HE. Moreover, Harvey et al. (2015) highlight the pervasive culture of low expectations towards OOHC students, both at the secondary and tertiary levels, which impede their access to HE and their achievement of successful educational outcomes.

To address the educational disadvantages experienced by OOHC students and consequently facilitate their access to and participation in HE, Mendes et al. (2014) highlight the importance of identifying the risk and protective factors which impede or enable care leavers’ participation in universities. Some of the factors identified from Mendes et al.’s (2014) review include students’ pre care experiences (abuse & neglect, highly disadvantaged family backgrounds), in-care factors (which hinders access), including instability in placements and schools, low expectations from social workers, teachers and carers, social problems at school, including discrimination and bullying from students and teachers, and transition from care factors, including abrupt transitions involving withdrawals of government support at a fixed chronological age of 18 years, when young people are finishing or about to finish school (Mendes et al., 2014). Nevertheless, the study also identified in-care factors (which promotes access), including strong personal motivation and resilience, having a close supportive adult, stability in care and school placements that facilitate continuity in school attendance, encouragement and advocacy from carers, teachers, family members and social workers, and integrated child welfare and education case management (Mendes et al., 2014).

Two Australian contributions that relate to OOHC students have emerged from an NCSEHE-funded project. These publications – Harvey, Andrewartha & McNamara (2015) and Harvey et al. (2015) – both point to the difficulties that OOHC students face, but without the recognition afforded to other groups. In order to push their proposal for major reform forward, Harvey et al. (2015) offer a set of 26 recommendations, based on three fundamental ideas:

1.   The development of a system to collect nationally consistent data on OOHC students;

2a. Policy reform to facilitate greater recognition of OOHC students by universities – the inclusion of an additional category to be added to the 6 identified equity groups because “the extent and nature of their disadvantage requires tailored policies and specific data collection” (p.6). Universities could collect data on enrolments/admissions;

2b. In the Community/ Care sector, legislative reform is needed to better support children to adulthood; and

3. The need for cultural change: shift culture of ‘soft bigotry’ (low expectations) towards OOHC students (Harvey et al., 2015, p. 6).

The final idea—pushing for cultural change—could easily be applied to all of the equity groups, and is a key theme in the literature that examines the intersections of social justice, social inclusion, equity and teaching and learning in higher education.

Summary written by Anna Xavier and Sally Baker


Andrewartha, L. & Harvey, A. (2017). Overcoming adversity: The strength of care leavers in

Australian higher education, International Studies in Widening Participation, 4(2), 52–64.

Cotton, D.R.; Nash, P. & Kneale, P. E. (2014). The experience of care leavers in UK higher      education, Widening participation and lifelong learning, 16(3), 5–21.

Cotton, D.R., Nash, T. & Kneale, P. (2017). Supporting the retention of non-traditional students in Higher Education using a resilience framework. European Research Education Journal, 16(1), 62-79. DOI: 10.1177/1474904116652629

Harrison, N. (2019). Patterns of participation in higher education for care-experienced

students in England: why has there not been more progress?, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2019.1582014

Harvey, A.; Andrewartha, A.; McNamara, P. (2015). A forgotten cohort? Including people from out-of-home care in Australian higher education policy, Australian Journal of Education, 59(2), 182–195.

Harvey, A., McNamara, P., Andrewartha, L. and Luckman, M. (2015). Out of care, into university: Raising higher education access and achievement of care leavers. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Perth: Curtin University.

McNamara, P., Harvey, A. and Andrewartha, L. (2019). Passports out of poverty: raising access to higher education for care leavers in Australia. Children and Youth Services Review, 97, 85–93.

Mendes, P., Michell, D. and Wilson, J. (2014). Young people transitioning from out-of-home-

care and access to higher education: a critical review of literature. Children Australia, 39(4), 243–252. DOI:10.1017/cha.2014.25

Dr Sally Baker is a lecturer for the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Sally’s research primarily focuses on equity in higher education, with her main interests being education policy, experiences of students from refugee and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and educational transitions. She is currently the Co-Chair of the Refugee Education Special Interest Group and the educational focal point in the Forced Migration Research Network at UNSW.

The thematic organisation of the open access annotated bibliographies (OAABs) does not reflect the intersecting and complex overlaps of the various foci in the literature, so please keep in mind that this is an interpretive exercise and one that could easily be reworked by another set of authors. An important note to make is that these resources should not be read as ‘the reading’ of any piece — rather they reflect the interpretive lens of a small number of people and should therefore be used as a ‘way in’ to the academic and grey literature. Hyperlinks have been provided to each entry (where possible) so that you may be able to access the original texts (although many of these will be hidden behind pay walls, which we cannot override for copyright reasons).

Furthermore, it is important to note that these resources are not a ‘finished product’; rather, they are reflective of an on-going, iterative engagement with the inter/national literature that critically engages with issues relating to equity in education. As such, there are unintentional omissions in these resources — if you see a gap in the literature, please feel free to make this clear, or offer an entry for inclusion. This annotated bibliography will be updated every six months for the first year, and annually thereafter.