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 indicators of high wellbeing.
Leaving care workers and personal advisors (PAs) were highlighted by care leavers as particularly important for positive wellbeing with 78% of care leavers reporting a trusting relationship with their leaving care worker. Second only to friends and family members, PAs were among the most common source of emotional support, cited by 45% of care leavers.
The research highlights the importance of understanding how care leavers feel about their lives, their hopes and feelings, in order to deliver high quality services and support. 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 study is the first of its kind in examining the subjective wellbeing of a large sample of care leavers from across England. 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 wellbeing between the two groups.
The focus on factors that can improve care leavers’ wellbeing emerged after the research found that much higher proportions of care leavers have low wellbeing across a range of measures compared to the general population of young people. Over a quarter (26%) have low life satisfaction compared to just 3% of 16-24 year olds in the general population. Nearly a quarter (23%) of care leavers said they did not feel that things they did in life were worthwhile, in contrast to just 4% of their peers, whilst more than one in five (22%) of care leavers said they feel lonely always or most of the time, compared to one in ten young people in the general population.
Money and housing are also factors linked to wellbeing with one in five (20%) of care leavers struggling financially, compared to just 9% in the general population, whilst a third (32%) of care leavers did not feel satisfied with their housing in contrast to one in five young people in the general population. As these statistics were collected before the pandemic, many of the challenges care leavers face are likely to have been exacerbated recently.
In addition to the gap between care leavers and young people in the general population, the report also found significant variation between care leavers’ wellbeing across the 21 different local authorities. Only 14% of care leavers experienced low wellbeing at the highest performing local authority but this was 44% at the lowest performing local authority.
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 calls for leaving care services to be “levelled up” and for care leavers’ positive experiences to be replicated for all young people in care. 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 wellbeing, provides clear recommendations for policy and practice to make life better for young people leaving care so they can flourish into adulthood.”
This executive summary is published ahead of the full report. The report is the first in a series of reports analysing the responses of 10,000 care leavers and children in care on what makes a positive difference to their wellbeing.
*The analysis and report were produced by Coram’s Impact and Evaluation team; Professor Julie Selwyn at the Rees Centre, Department of Education, University of Oxford; and the Voices Improving Care team at Coram Voice. It was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the Hadley Trust.