Life improves in care for most young people
Most children in care feel that the intervention has improved their life
Published on 20th February 2018
Going into care has improved the life of most children in the care system, a study has found.
While most research focuses on the negative outcomes of going into care such as lower educational attainment, the our Lives, our Care survey by Coram Voice and the University of Bristol found that being looked after was a positive intervention for most children in care.
“The majority of children (83%) emphasised that being in care had improved their lives and that overall they had moderate levels of subjective well-being. Importantly, a larger proportion felt safer in their placements and liked school more than did children in the general population,” said the report.
The survey, which asked 2,263 children and young people aged between four and 18 about their experiences of being in care, noted that it was ‘surprising’ to see that the mean score on a scale that measured positivity about the future was close to the national mean score. While it might be expected that looked after young people would be more anxious about their future prospects, the survey showed that did not appear to be the case.
The majority of looked after children reported that they felt happy. Younger children felt happier than did older children – although this is reflected in national studies as well-being tends to reduce during the teenage years and then increase again in early adulthood.
The pattern identified in national data of more girls reporting lower well-being in comparison with boys, was also seen in looked after young people but amplified. Nearly a quarter of girls were dissatisfied with their lives and 26% scored four or less on two or more of the well-being scales.
Many of the girls who completed the survey did not like their appearance. Lack of physical confidence may reflect a general lack of self-esteem, or result from the experience of neglect and abuse and/or feelings that they had less access to makeup and fashionable clothes.
The survey found that girls seemed to feel the stigma of care more deeply than did boys. They were more likely to comment on how being in care made them feel different. The report said the findings raise important questions about difference in caring for girls and boys and suggest that a more ‘gender aware’ approach needs to be taken.
The report also highlights that while the majority of children did understand why they were in care, the numbers of children who were unclear or confused were the younger children surveyed. Nearly a third of children (4-7yrs) thought they did not have a good understanding
The majority of respondents, 38%, had two social workers in the previous year. Thirty one per cent had three or more while 28% had one social worker. Three per cent had not had a social worker at all. The majority (83%) of all the children trusted their social worker although levels of trust decreased with the child’s age.
The report makes a number of recommendations and says all children and young people should be provided with age-appropriate accounts of why they are in care and the reasons for their contact plans with relatives.
Children and young people should also be involved in decisions around their care. Children need to feel involved rather than it being a paper exercise and need to feel that they are able to get in touch with their social workers and know that they have a right to speak to them on their own about any issues that affect their care.
The report highlights that young people felt the stigma of care and social workers and carers need to be mindful of how their actions and behaviours can inadvertently reinforce that stigma e.g. wearing badges and security passes when taking children out. Drawing attention to or identifying looked after children should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Each local authority should regularly measure their looked after children’s subjective well-being against the Bright Spots Well-Being Indicators, the report urges. Carers and social workers also need to be mindful of signs of low well-being and support children and young people to talk about their feelings.
Young people should also be encouraged to take part in activities and hobbies, including access to the outdoors. Taking part in activities/hobbies is important for developing self-esteem and provides the opportunity to do things with friends, the report adds.
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