Defining educational success through the eyes of young people who have been in foster care : a qualitative case study : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Educational Psychology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
All children have the right to an education and a voice, as protected by the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, ratified by New Zealand in 1993.
Children and young people in foster care face unique and often challenging experiences
that can make them vulnerable to having these basic rights eroded. This study explored
how educational success was determined by young people who were in, or had been in,
foster care. Specifically, this research addressed how success in educational experiences
is identified and enacted by foster care experienced young people, and in what ways
formal and informal educational experiences are perceived by, and impact on, these
young people’s lives.
In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven participants,
aged between 16 and 29 years old, who had experienced foster care and compulsory
education in New Zealand. Interviews were analysed using grounded theory. The
findings showed that educational successes as identified by young people in this study
were broad and holistic. They navigated complex obstacles posed by living in foster
care and these impacted on learning and interactions within school. Specific experiences
of success differed between participants, and ranged from social acceptance and a sense
of belonging, varying degrees of achievement at school, to simply turning up to school.
Young people demonstrated marked resilience throughout the challenges they faced,
which was both supportive to success, and a success in itself. Relationships with
teachers, foster carers and friends were key supports to success, along with having a
voice, influence over decisions and having an advocate. The implications of this study
include a broadening of the concept of educational success—a concept that takes on
different meanings according to people’s values and life experiences. Given the unique
life experiences of children and young people in foster care, there is imperative to create
space for the voices of children and young people in foster care to both determine and
define what educational success means, and they need their rights to share these
perspectives to enhance their own educational experiences.