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Largest survey of its kind on looked after children shows positives but more can be done, especially for younger children

A survey which has been completed by 2,263 looked after children across 16 local authorities, the largest of its kind ever conducted, reveals that 83% of
them feel that being in care has enhanced their lives. Our Lives, Our Care is a report collaboratively published by University of Bristol and Coram Voice, a charity equipping children and young people to hold account services responsible for their care, upholding their rights so they can actively shape their own lives, through the Bright Spots Programme. The report indicated that children’s levels of wellbeing increased and was either moderate to high, the longer the amount of time they spent in the care system. However, this is not always the case for younger children and improvements are still needed across the board, including better communication regarding discussing with younger people why they are in care. Plus, the younger they were, the less likely they were to know who their social worker was.

Three age categories were invited to complete a Your Life, Your Care survey; 4-7 years, 8-10 years and 11-18 years. Seventeen core questions were asked around subjective wellbeing and here are some of the key findings under each category:

4-7 years

  • 97% had moderate to high levels of wellbeing
  • 92% mostly liked going to school
  • Sadly, 6% did not feel settled in their placement and 3% did not feel safe all the time
  • 3% had a negative profile of responses which indicated low levels of wellbeing – the majority did not understand why they were in care, had no idea who their social worker was, were unsettled and felt it was not noticed how they were feeling by their carer

8-10 years

  • 96% had moderate to high levels of wellbeing and most felt safe and settled
  • 97% trusted their carer
  • 96% felt they had an adult they could trust in their lives
  • 89% trusted their social worker
  • 63% worried about their feelings or behaviour
  • 52% were satisfied with level of contact with siblings
  • Around one in three wished for more parental contact, 5% wanted less contact

11-18 years

  • 82% had moderate to high levels of wellbeing
  • 83% felt that their life was getting better
  • 92% had a trusted adult
  • 60% worried about their behaviour or feelings, and more than one in five were not getting enough help to deal with this
  • One in ten did not feel they had a good friend, potentially associated with being moved around the care system

From the resulting data and responses, the survey offers suggested recommendations for practice for both carers and social workers, including ensuring every child can count on having an adult they can trust, being a more active listener, revisiting care and contact plans, asking children if they like their appearance, and recognising that moving to a placement can be scary for a young person who needs reassurances and not feel that their sense of safety and security is threatened. In addition to Your Life, Your Care, Bright Spots facilitates Your Life Beyond Care, focusing on the thoughts, feelings and wishes of those leaving care.

It is both encouraging and heartening to see many initiatives across the UK developing programmes whereby the key focus is on how best to support the child and how to improve outcomes. The Promoting Achievement for Looked After Children (PALAC) is a Knowledge Exchange programme geared towards supporting good practice schools to improve outcomes for young people in care., looking at how children in care can thrive in an educational setting.

PALAC focuses on:

  • Supporting emotional wellbeing and development
  • Raising and monitoring attainment
  • Supporting learning
  • School environment
  • Effective deployment of staff
  • Supporting equality and diversity
  • Working with carers and other professionals

As a result of implementing highly tailored programmes geared towards best assisting the children reach their potential, some of its success stories include:

  1. In a South Tyneside primary school, a boy’s reading age increased by one year and two months, and his maths score by nine months. A fellow pupil had improved scores in two out of four areas of his Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), his reading had improved by two months and his maths by two years and four months.
  2. In a school in Wales, all children gained in their reading levels and ages, and the project had a significant positive impact between the school and the carers.
  3. In Lincolnshire, where a specialist format of revision for GCSEs was implemented, all expectations were exceeded; 43% of Year 11 pupils attended at least five sessions, 20% of all pupils from a disadvantaged background attended at least five sessions, and the summer Progress 8 scores were 0.05+. Feedback was positive from the pupils who felt that the tutors explained far better than the teachers and felt more confident and better equipped about approaching their exams.