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Early academic struggles among children with home-based support from child welfare services.

Benedicte Kirkøen, Thomas Engell, Ingvild B. Follestad, Solveig Holen & Kristine Amlund Hagen

Children and Youth Services Review 2021

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Objectives
Children in child welfare services have a higher risk of becoming marginalized as they grow up to be young adults. An important protective factor against later marginalization is academic achievement. Unfortunately, studies show that children who receive support from child welfare services have poorer academic achievement. Most research focuses on children in out-of-home care and on performance in secondary school or school completion rate, while few studies focus on children receiving home-based support from child welfare services and their performance in primary school. Recipients of home-based support is the largest group of children receiving help from the child welfare services, and knowledge on whether this group of children are struggling in the early stages of their education is necessary for knowing when to intervene.

Method
The sample included 104 families of children in primary school (ages 5–13) who received home-based support from child welfare services. Math and reading tests were administered to the children (n = 103). In addition, the children, one of the children’s parents (n = 104), and the children’s teacher (n = 61) completed a questionnaire, including a measure of the child’s mental health (the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire) and social skills (Social Skills Rating System).

Findings
Descriptive analyses showed that on average, the children scored below the 30th percentile on the math test and below the 40th percentile on the reading test. Moreover, fewer than half of the children at risk of academic difficulties received help from the pedagogical psychological services. Multivariable linear regression analyses showed that parental income was associated with children’s math achievements, while parental education was associated with children’s reading abilities. Parents marital status was negatively associated with children’s reading abilities. Children with higher parent- and teacher-reported externalizing difficulties had lower math and reading achievements, while we found no association with social skills.

Conclusion
The primary school children who receive home-based support from child welfare services had average scores that indicates increased risk for academic difficulties. Moreover, an intervention is highly needed, as fewer than half of the children at risk of academic difficulties received help from the pedagogical psychological services. The results show some important predictors of academic achievement in this population: parental income, education, and marital status as well as the children’s externalizing difficulties.

Early academic struggles among children with home-based support from child welfare services.