Care experienced learners

Ngā ākonga kua tiakina i waho i te kāinga

Last updated 2 February 2023
Last updated 2 February 2023

Resources and advice you can use to help meet the needs and aspirations of care experienced learners.

Giving effect to the Tertiary Education Strategy (TES)

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) wants to ensure tertiary education organisations (TEOs) can support care experienced learners so they achieve better outcomes throughout their education journey. Improving outcomes for care experienced learners will help TEOs give effect to the TES – specifically Objective Two: Barrier-free access.

Understanding your learners

Fundamental to the Ōritetanga learner success approach is TEOs understanding all their learners and their needs and aspirations. The TEC’s care experienced learners work aims to provide support and advice to TEOs around how to support these learners.

Guide for TEOs on supporting care experienced learners

Care experienced learners are those who have been – or are – in out-of-home care (OOHC). That means living away from home in the care or custody of the government, an iwi social service, a cultural social service, or a child and family support service.

We encourage all TEOs to increase their understanding and support of care experienced learners, so these learners can successfully enter and complete their education. We have developed the following guide to support TEOs on this journey.

A Guide for Tertiary Education Organisations on Supporting Care Experienced Learners (PDF 2.4 MB)

Key points from the Guide

Challenges that care experienced learners face

Every care experienced learner has different experiences and challenges. They might include:

  • traumatic experiences before entering OOHC
  • varied quality and stability of placements in OOHC
  • stigma about having been in OOHC
  • unstable secondary schooling, often moving between different schools
  • financial hardship, and the need to work many hours a week on top of studying
  • temporary or unsafe accommodation
  • being a parent at a young age
  • sudden care responsibilities for younger siblings
  • low expectations from others about their ability to do well educationally
  • lack of access to the same support networks most students have.

Care experienced people are more likely than the broad learner group to be Māori, from a low socio-economic background, and living with a disability or physical or mental health challenges. Each experience of inequity can compound the others.

Create an inclusive environment

Here are some general guidelines for creating a supportive, inclusive environment for care experienced learners at your TEO:

  • Partner with learners to identify their support needs and the barriers to participation and achievement they face.
  • Create a safe environment for them to raise difficulties they’re having.
  • Share responsibility with them for negotiating and developing solutions.
  • Show respect for their rights, dignity and equality, including their right to privacy and confidentiality. (Some care experienced learners may not want others to know their background.)
  • Make sure staff are supported to meet their needs.

Offer support throughout the learner journey

Consider the needs of care experienced learners at every step.


  • How will your TEO reach care experienced learners to let them know what you offer?
  • Could you partner with schools to do so? Or organisations that work with care experienced learners?


  • Could you offer recruitment activities specifically for care experienced learners?
  • Could you provide additional funds or a scholarship for care experienced learners, or advice on how they can access extra funding as a care leaver?
  • Could you offer guaranteed places to care experienced learners on any existing schemes aimed at new learners?
  • Could you set up a scheme for currently enrolled care experienced learners to mentor incoming learners?

Support during study

  • Set up an agreement with each care experienced learner to identify who can be informed of their circumstances and to ensure confidentiality. Disability support teams are well practised at this and will have a process you could use as a starting point.
  • Ensure that relevant support, such as a key contact, a buddy scheme or centralised student support, is available for care experienced learners when they need it.
  • Ensure learners are aware of these supports, and remind them throughout the year, but without pressuring them.
  • Make sure a private space is always available where learners can speak openly and in confidence. Ideally, meetings should always be with the same person/people.
  • Take the time to address issues and, where necessary, act as an advocate, speaking on behalf of the learner to alleviate their stress.
  • Be in contact with learners often enough to recognise when they might need help, and know the signs of difficulty.
  • Can you offer learners optional one-to-one support meetings at the start of each course or term, to build rapport and check that everything is okay?
  • Is there practical help your organisation could offer, such as help to move into or out of accommodation, or storage for their possessions over the summer break?

Remember you are not alone. Take a full-team approach to supporting each care experienced learner, and consider including your organisation’s counsellors. Ensure your work to support care experienced learners is done in partnership with your TEO’s student support services, and within your wider learner success programmes.

Books and research on care experienced learners

New Zealand

Iain Matheson. The education of children in out-of-home care [Special double issue]. Developing Practice 46, 2016

Iain Matheson. The importance of individual personal factors: The experiences of [New Zealand] care leavers who went to university [Special issue]. Developing Practice 46: 42–54, 2016

Iain Matheson. State of indifference? An overview of residential and foster care in New Zealand In: T Khalil, L Fulcher (eds), Residential child and youth care in a developing world. pp 311–328. Cape Town: CYC-Net Press, 2016

Malatest International. Summary report: Survey of rangatahi/young people eligible for a transition worker, 2021

Oranga Tamariki. Experiences of education for children in care in Aotearoa New Zealand. Part 1: Voices of children in care and key adults in their lives. Wellington, New Zealand, 2019

Oranga Tamariki. (n.d.). Transition: Eligibility tree, 2022


A. Williams, V. Edwards, E. Doherty, G. Allnatt, J. Lyttleton-Smith and N. Warner. Care experienced young people and further education (What works for children’s social care series). Cardiff University, 2020

Andrew Harvey, Perri Campbell, Lisa Andrewartha, Jacqueline Wilson and Pearl Goodwin-Burns. Recruiting and supporting care leavers in Australian higher education: Final report. Melbourne: La Trobe University, 2017

Andrew Harvey, Patricia McNamara, Lisa Andrewartha and Michael Luckman. Out of care, into university: Raising higher education access and achievement of care leavers: Final report. Melbourne: La Trobe University, 2015

Andrew Harvey, Naomi Tootel, Beni Cakitaki, Anna To, David McGinniss and Teresa Tjia. Success, retention, and completion of care leaver students in Australian higher education. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, 31 May 2022

Angelique Day, Amy Dworsky, Kieran Fogarty and Amy Damashek. An examination of postsecondary retention and graduation among foster care youth enrolled in a four-year university. Children and Youth Services Review 33(11): 2335–2341, 2011

Angelique Day, Richard J. Smith and Emiko A. Tajima. Stopping out and its impact on college graduation among a sample of foster care alumni: A joint scale-change accelerated failure time analysis, 2021

Aoife O’Higgins, Judy Sebba and Frances Gardner. What are the factors associated with educational achievement for children in kinship or foster care: A systematic review. Children and Youth Services Review 79: 198–220, 2017

Aoife O’Higgins, Judy Sebba and Nikki Luke. What is the relationship between being in care and the educational outcomes of children? An international systematic review. University of Oxford Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education, 2015

David Berridge. The education of children in care: Agency and resilience. Children and Youth Services Review 77: 86–93, 2017

Dee Michell, David Jackson and Casey Tonkin. Against the odds. Care leavers at university. People's Voice Publishing, 2015

Eavan Brady, Robbie Gilligan and Siobhan Nic Fhlannchadha. Care-experienced young people accessing higher education in Ireland. Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies 19(1): 50–64, 2019

Jacob P. Gross, Ellen Stolzenberg and Alex Williams. College choice and enrollment among youth formerly in foster care. Journal of College Access 5(2): 8–31, 2020

Joan M. Merdinger, Alice M. Hines, Kathy Lemon Osterling and Paige Wyatt. Pathways to college for former foster youth: Understanding factors that contribute to educational success. Child Welfare 84(6): 867–896, 2005

Jacqueline Z. Wilson, Andrew Harvey and Philip Mendes. Changing lives: Improving care leaver access to higher education. Oxford Review of Education 45(4), 573-586, 2019

Katharine Dill and Robert J. Flynn. Education interventions, practices, and policies to improve educational outcomes among children and youth in out-of-home care [Special issue]. Children and Youth Services Review 34(6), 2012

Kim Snow. “I am a voyager”: From aspirations to belonging. Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, 8(1), 18–28, 2013

Kwabena Frimpong-Manso. Educational experiences of care leavers from residential care in Ghana. Child & Youth Services: 1–17, 2021

Lee Ann Phillips, Laurie E. Powers, Sarah Geenan, Jessica Schmidt, Nichole Winges-Yanez, Isha Charlie McNeely, Lindsay Merritt, Candis Williamson, Shannon Turner, Harry Zwebem, Celeste Bodner C and The Research Consortium to Increase the Success of Youth in Foster Care. Better Futures: A validated model for increasing postsecondary preparation and participation of youth in foster care with mental health challenges. Children and Youth Services Review 57: 50–59, 2015

Louise Gazeley and Tamsin Hinton-Smith. The “Success” of Looked After Children in Higher Education in England: Near peer coaching, “small steps” and future thinking. Higher Education Research & Development 37(5): 952–965, 2018

Louise Starks. Assessing the impact of the Buttle UK Quality Mark in higher education. London: Buttle UK, 2013.

Neil Harrison. Moving on up: Pathways of care leavers and care-experienced students into and through higher education - project report. National Winchester, England: Network for the Education of Care Leavers, 2017

Neil Harrison. Patterns of participation in higher education for care-experienced students in England: Why has there not been more progress? Studies in Higher Education 45(9): 1986–2000, 2019

Neil Harrison, Zoe Baker and Jacqueline Stevenson. Employment and further study outcomes for care-experienced graduates in the UK. Higher Education 2020: 1–22, 2020

Patricia Ambrose, Sian Edwards and Moria Mitchell. Supporting care experienced students in English higher education: Towards a more consistent approach – a report to the Office for Students by the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers, 31 May 2022

Peter J Pecora. Maximizing educational achievement of youth in foster care and alumni: Factors associated with success. Children and Youth Services Review 34(6): 1121–1129, 2012

Philip Mendes, Dee Mitchell and Jacqueline Z. Wilson. Young people transitioning from out-of-home care and access to higher education: A critical review of the literature. Children Australia 39(4): 243–252, 2014

Reeny Jurczyszyn and Claire Tilbury. Higher and further education for care leavers. A road less travelled. Developing Practice 33: 10–22, 2012

Ross Finnie. Access to post-secondary education: The importance of culture. Children and Youth Services Review 34: 1161–1170, 2012.

Royel M. Johnson and Terrell L. Strayhorn. Preparing youth in foster care for college through an early outreach program. Journal of College Student Development 60(5): 612–616, 2019

Rupert Herd and Tim Legge. The education of looked after children: the social implications of further education. Adoption & Fostering 41(1): 67–74, 2017

Sharon Pinkney and Gary Walker. “It was me, but it was them that helped me”: Exploring the issues for care experienced young people within higher education. Children and Youth Services Review 108, 2020

Sonia Jackson. [Special issue on the education of looked after children]. Adoption & Fostering 31(1), 2007

Sonia Jackson and Sarah Ajayi. Foster care and higher education. Adoption & Fostering 31(1): 62–72, 2007

Sonia Jackson, Sarah Ajayi and Margaret Quigley. Going to university from care: Final report – By Degrees project. London: Institute of Education, 2005

Sonia Jackson and Claire Cameron. Improving access to further and higher education for young people in public care: European policy and practice. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2014

Sonia Jackson and Ingrid Höjer. The education of children and young people in state care [Special issue]. European Journal of Social Work 16(1), 2013.

Steve J. Rios and Tonette S. Rocco. From foster care to college: Barriers and supports on the road to postsecondary education. Emerging Adulthood 2(3): 227–237, 2014

Toni Terling Watt, Kim Seoyoun and Kaytlin Garrison. The relationship between State supports and post-secondary enrollment among youth aging out of foster care: An analysis of the National Youth in Transition Database. Child Welfare, 96(3). 1–20, 2018

Yvonne A. Unrau, Sarah A. Font and Glinda Rawls. Readiness for college engagement among students who have aged out of foster care. Children & Youth Services Review, 34(1), 76-83, 2012

New Zealand organisations

NOTE: There are more than 80 local Oranga Tamariki transition support service delivery partner agencies. They provide transition worker or supported accommodation services for eligible young people who are, or have been, in care. For the latest list of these agencies, see Transition Support Service for rangatahi | Oranga Tamariki — Ministry for Children

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers – professional membership association for social workers

Ata Taiohi – peak body for youth development workers

Barnardos New Zealand – residential and foster care provider

Caring Families Aotearoa – national organisation for foster carer support and training, also facilitating local networks

Dingwall Trust – provider of residential care, transitioning-from-care services and education scholarships

Independent Children’s Monitor – body for statutory oversight of Oranga Tamariki, including national care standards which include some provisions on education

Key Assets New Zealand – national foster care provider

Kingslea School – special, composite state school, delivering education in most Oranga Tamariki secure residences

Ministry of Education – the Government's lead advisor on the New Zealand education system

Office of the Children’s Commissioner – office with roles that include monitoring and investigating Oranga Tamariki and contracted organisations

Open Homes Foundation – national foster care provider

Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children – provider of most residential care, foster care, and extended foster care (18 to 21 years), which contracts multiple other large and small care providers, and manages transitioning from care

Research Centre for Better Outcomes from Fostering and Residential Care – New Zealand-based research centre and social enterprise to help organisations here and internationally to generate and use evidence and learning, so that children and young people in or leaving out-of-home care can thrive

Social Services Providers Aotearoa – national body for social services providers

StudyLink – Government organisation that provides financial support for eligible learners in tertiary education

Tangata Whenua Social Workers Association – professional membership association for tangata whenua social workers

Te Kahui Atawhai O Te Motu Inc – national body for iwi and Māori social service providers

Tertiary Education Commission – Government agency that funds the provision of tertiary education in New Zealand and is responsible for ensuring the system works for all learners

VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai – advocacy and connections service for children and young people in care, with offices across the country in Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton, Kaikohe, Napier, Tauranga, Whangārei and Wellington.

Youth Horizons Trust – provider of foster care, residential care, and transitioning-from-care support