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27 September 2012, 06:00
A new research centre that hopes to improve the lives of foster children has opened in Oxford.
The Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education, based at Oxford University, is thought to be the only dedicated research centre in the world looking at how to improve education outcomes for children in foster care.
The centre wants to look at why foster children are 42% less likely to go to university and less likely to do well in their GCSEs.
They also want to study the reasons people become foster parents to help with the recruitment of more carers.
Centre Director Professor Judy Sebba said: ‘Fostering is an under-researched area and my ambition is that the Rees Centre begins to fill the gap. Children in care deserve only the best and the centre will promote its research findings to inform carers and providers.
"Existing research shows there is a huge gap in educational attainment when comparing the GCSE grades of looked after children with the general population.
"We need to raise the expectations in schools, and support foster carers so they in turn support their fostered children’s education. Research can provide new insights into this area and the new centre is unique in bringing education and fostering together for the first time."
One of the centre's first research projects will be to look at ways of tackling the current recruitment crisis of foster carers in England.
With the number of children needing to be looked after increasing, researchers from the centre will study carers in England specifically, asking them why they started fostering children.
21-year-old Binta Bah, who is originally from Sierra Leone and arrived in England unable to speak English. With the support and encouragement of her carers she flourished at school, attaining 13 GCSEs (A-C grades) and four A’ levels.
She said: "Thanks to the support and commitment from my foster carers, I was encouraged with my studies. Every morning we would go through my times tables and spellings, and that extra help at home really paid off. We are not all born with choices; however, opportunities are always there for us."