The views of 10,000 children and young people in care on their wellbeing are uncovered in a new report published today by Coram Voice and The Rees Centre at University of Oxford.
The report summarises responses collected through the largest survey of its kind from children and young people aged 4-18 years between 2016 and 2021, giving unprecedented insight into children in care’s subjective wellbeing.
10,000 Voices reports some encouraging findings, with 83% of children and young people feeling that life is getting better. Compared with the general population of children and young people, a higher proportion reported feeling safe where they live, like school and felt that the adults they live with took an interest in their education.
However, a larger proportion of young people in care (aged 11-18 years) rated themselves as having ‘low life satisfaction’ compared with young people in the general population, and by the teenage years, 1 in 6 reported low overall wellbeing. The report also found that girls had lower wellbeing than boys, and a greater proportion of young people living in residential care or ‘somewhere else’ (mostly supported accommodation) reported lower wellbeing than those living in foster care and kinship foster care.
The report highlights other areas where children and young people in care are faring worse than their peers. A higher proportion (29%) of children in care (aged 8-10 years) reported being afraid to go to school because of bullying compared with children in the general population (17%), whilst 1 in 8 young people (aged 11-18 years) felt that adults had done things to make them feel embarrassed about being in care. In addition, around 6 out of 10 children (aged 8-18 years) wrote that they worried about their feelings or behaviour.
The report finds that most children in care felt included in the decisions that social workers made about their care, at least sometimes. However, around 1 in 7 ‘hardly ever’ or ‘never’ felt included. For the youngest children surveyed (aged 4-7 years), one in five did not know who their social worker was – twice as high as for the older children in care – and nearly half of this age group did not feel that the reasons they were in care had been fully explained.
For all children and young people in care, having good friends and trusting and supportive relationships were important. This included trusting carers and social workers, and, for the oldest age group, having trusted adults, as well as being given opportunities to be trusted. Feeling safe where they lived and settled was also important for children and young people across all age groups.
One child (aged 8-10 years) said: “I would like to get a better relationship with my carer so I feel safer where I live. I would like someone who can understand my thoughts and feelings. I would prefer to live closer to my school, my friends and my family because I feel safer.”
10,000 Voices is the latest report to be published as part of the Bright Spots programme and makes five key recommendations to improve policy and practice based on the findings:
- Listen to children in care’s views – all local authorities should ensure they have mechanisms for capturing how their children in care feel about their lives in the areas that are important to them
- Children’s rights and co-production – local authorities should co-produce service improvements with children to address issues they say would make their lives better
- Make life good – services should have mechanisms to address the areas that children and young people say are important to them
- Build trust – the care system must put trusting relationships at its heart
- Recognise difference – professionals should be mindful of the wellbeing concerns of different groups of children in care, especially girls and those in residential care or living ‘somewhere else’. They need to be aware of how identity can impact on wellbeing
Linda Briheim-Crookall, Head of Policy and Practice Development at Coram Voice, said: “We need to shift the focus of children’s social care so that what’s important to children’s wellbeing is at its heart. To do this, those that make decisions, from individual social workers to Government ministers, need to understand how children and young people feel about their lives. Whether measuring the impact of new policy initiatives or planning the care for individual children the focus should be on what children in care say makes their lives good.”
Alongside the report, there is also a resource bank with case studies of local authorities who have made service improvements based on what children and young people have told them is important through the Bright Spots survey – please visit coramvoice.org.uk/for-professionals/bright-spots/resource-bank/.