The largest study of its kind, which aimed to measure the well-being of looked after children and young people has revealed that 83% feel that being in care has improved their lives, and that the longer children and young people have spent in care, the more likely they are to have moderate to high levels of wellbeing.
Over 2000 children from 16 local authorities were surveyed for the ‘Our Lives Our Care’ study, published by the charity Coram Voice and the University of Bristol. It is part of the Bright Spots programme which enables local authorities to find out directly from young people what areas need to be improved.
While the majority of young people are positive about their experiences of care, the findings point out where there is more work to be done. Of the youngest children surveyed (4-7 year olds), over half (53%) thought it not had been fully explained to them why they were in care, and almost a quarter (23%) were unsure of who their social worker was. In addition, almost a fifth (19%) of 8-10 year olds do not feel listened to or included in decisions made about them.
Latest government figures show there are over 72,000 children in care in England, with the largest majority in care due to parental abuse and neglect
The study consisted of online surveys for children aged 4-7 years, 8-10 years and 11-18 years, and results show that, compared to young people in the general population, a larger proportion of children in care feel safe where they are living and felt their carers were interested in their education. In addition, the majority (92% of 11-18 year olds, 93% of 8-10 year olds and 89% of 4-7 year olds) felt their carers noticed their feelings.
Children and young people emphasised the importance of having a trusted adult in their lives. However, almost a third (31%) of 11-18 year olds reported that they have had three or more social workers in the past year, and one young person commented: “I think that social workers shouldn’t move around as much because they just get to know your life story…how can you trust them when you don’t even know them or have hardly ever met them?”
8% of 11-18yrs had no contact with either parent and 20% had lived with five or more foster carers since entering care
Some children and young people also felt that changes of placement and school had negatively affected their friendships, and one in ten 11-18 year olds reported not having a good friend (compared to just 3% of 14 year olds in the general population).
Furthermore, some young people reported ‘feeling different’ to others because of their experiences in care, and almost a third (30%) of 8-10 year olds were afraid to go to school because of bullying. One young person wrote: “Being in care is a struggle because you get bullied or picked on for being special and this can bring my mood down.” 16% of children also thought they were not given opportunities at school to show they could be trusted.
Professor Julie Selwyn CBE, Director of the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies and lead author of the study said: “The results of the survey show that most children and young people are flourishing in care but about 18% of young people (11-18yrs) are not. Young people with low well-being did not feel settled and felt that they were being moved from placement to placement. The detrimental impact of a lack of a trusted adult in these children’s lives cannot be over-estimated.”
Dr Carol Homden CBE, CEO of Coram said: “It is encouraging to hear that such a large majority of children and young people in care feel their lives are improving and that for most, the care system is providing them with the safety, support and opportunities they need to thrive.
“However the results show us that we can and must take action to address the avoidable losses of care so that children feel ‘normal’ and are able to do the same things as their friends, have an understanding of why they are where they are, and a part to play in decisions that affect them.”
Find out more about the Bright Spots programme