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New RCT to Improve School Performance for Children in Foster Care

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It is well documented that children in out-of-home care tend to be low achievers in school and at risk of entering adulthood with a low level of education. At the same time, successful schooling and educational attainment is known to be one of the most vital protective factors for at-risk children. A new SFI study, conducted as a randomized controlled trial (RCT), will examine the effects of two different types of interventions aimed at improving the school performance of children in foster care.

The educational challenges for children in out-of-home care are increasingly being acknowledged as a matter of great importance, both for the individual child and for society at large. In Denmark, this attention has recently been reinforced by new legislation on enhanced social inclusion and a public schooling reform emphasising the need for efforts to maintain and support at-risk children within the ordinary educational system. This study reflects the broader societal agenda by examining and comparing two different approaches to provide educational support for children in foster care. Both interventions rely on strategies of individual cognitive learning combined with interpersonal social support.

The first intervention is school-based and builds on the promising Swedish programme SkolFam, but adapted to a Danish context. The two main components of the programme are a) comprehensive assessment of the child, involving testing of the child’s cognitive and academic abilities and difficulties as well as an evaluation of the child’s behaviour, school-related social relations and well-being, and b) a systematic and individually targeted intervention plan, made in collaboration between the external psychologist, the teachers, and the special educational team at the school (e.g., the reading counsellor).

The content of the plan will continuously be discussed with the foster parents, and the child. Class teachers are responsible for carrying out the individual plan, but follow-up meetings between all collaborates and the foster parents will take place regularly during the 18-month intervention period. The second intervention is home-based, comprising a structured tutoring programme that allows foster parents to systematically support the foster child with a view to enhancing educational skills. While tailored to a Danish school setting, the intervention relies on internationally recognised programmes to enhance both literacy and numeracy skills, such as the Canadian Kids in Care Project and the British Letterbox club. Foster parents will attend an introductory tutor training seminar at which they will be introduced to relevant theory on learning and counselled on tutoring practice. The intervention itself is designed to provide approx. three hours per week of individual home-based tutoring for a period of 40 weeks.

The study is being conducted as an RCT, involving approx. 200 children in foster care aged 6-13 years who are randomized into three groups: the two intervention groups and a control group. The recruitment of municipalities, schools, foster families and children is currently taking place, and baseline measurements will be conducted in the autumn of 2014. The intervention period runs until 2016, and results will be published in 2017. The main part of the study is being conducted as a PhD project by psychologist Misja Eiberg (mei@sfi.dk).

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