The study found disparity across a range of measures. The percentage of care leavers with low well-being ranged from 14% to 44% by local authority. Similarly, in one authority, half of young people did not always feel safe in their home, in contrast to another local authority where the same was true for only one in five.
One care leaver said: “There needs to be a national service that offers all the same services to everyone. It doesn’t make sense for one care leaver to be exceptionally comfortable and another to be destitute.”
The report, ‘What Makes Life Good, Care leavers’ Views on their Well-being’, is published by Coram Voice in collaboration with The Rees Centre and is the first of its kind in examining the well-being of a large sample of care leavers from their perspective, enabling comparisons across local authorities. This report follows a series of recent Children’s Commissioner’s reports and comes ahead of the government’s imminent review of children’s social care.
Based on 1,804 care leavers’ responses on how they feel about their lives, the study identified 10 key issues that lead to high well-being. High well-being in care leavers was found to be associated with feeling less lonely and stressed, happier with how they look, feeling settled, positive about the future and experiencing positive feelings and emotions. Having people in their lives providing emotional support, as well as feeling that they were treated the same or better than other young people and feeling safe where they live were also identified as important factors influencing high well-being.
In addition to the variation across local authorities, the study also found that that much higher proportions of care leavers have low well-being across a range of measures than the general population of young people. Care leavers were asked the same four questions used in Office for National Statistics (ONS) surveys with the general population of the same age, enabling a direct comparison of well-being between the two groups.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of care leavers reported a disability or long-term health problem, against just 14% of 16-24-year olds in the general population. Over a quarter of care leavers (26%) have low life satisfaction compared to just 3% in the general population. One in five care leavers (20%) report struggling financially, more than twice the percentage of non-care experienced young people (9%). Care leavers also reported significantly higher levels of loneliness (22%), high anxiety (33%) and feeling unsafe where they live (16%). As the data was collected before the pandemic, many of the issues care leavers face are likely to have been exacerbated recently.
While government statistics focus on objective measures and professional assessments such as education and employment, this gives only a partial picture of care leavers’ lives. This research highlights the importance of understanding how care leavers themselves feel about their lives. Understanding the factors that can improve care leavers’ well-being is essential to delivering high quality services and support.
The variation in young people’s responses and across local authorities suggests that services can get it right. The report calls for leaving care services to be “levelled up” and for care leavers’ positive experiences to be replicated for young people leaving care in all local authorities. One young person who had a positive experience said: “Leaving care has been a lot easier than I expected. I’ve still had all the support I needed from [name] and my experience with leaving care has been brilliant! I have a settled home, a job and a family! That’s all I need.”
Brigid Robinson, Managing Director of Coram Voice, said: “Our What Makes Life Good report firmly puts the voices of young people leaving care centre stage by understanding from their experiences, what makes life good. Our aspirations for young people leaving care should be the same as for our own children; that they thrive and grow to become confident young adults able to find their way in the world.
“To achieve this, we need to understand what is important to them; what they love doing, their hopes and feelings and what could make things better. What Makes Life Good does this, and through this unique insight into young care leavers’ subjective well-being, provides clear recommendations for policy and practice to make life better for young people leaving care so they can flourish into adulthood.”
Key recommendations for local authorities, guided by factors that care leavers themselves have identified, include:
- Improving connections, building trusting relationships and addressing loneliness
- Providing emotional and mental health support to address stress, negativity and help care leavers feel good about their future
- Providing money management and financial support to help care leavers cope financially
- Improving accommodation support to help care leavers feel safe and settled in their homes