New Coram survey on public attitudes to children in care and care leavers finds sympathy but also negative judgements

  • 1 April 2021

The findings show that while most people are sympathetic to the challenges faced by children in care, some continue to hold negative judgements that potentially stigmatise care-experienced young people. The survey of over 2,000 UK adults finds that while 81% of those asked thought that children in care are neither a good nor bad influence on other children, around one in eight (12%) believe they are a bad influence.

The survey, undertaken for Coram by YouGov, also suggests evidence of some negative and stigmatising associations which risk reinforcing fixed stereotypes of care-experienced young people. When asked for the first three words that came to mind when thinking about ‘children in care’, most respondents reported negative terms. The most popular responses included the words “sad”, “poor”, “abused”, “vulnerable” and “orphan”, with other commonly reported terms including “unloved”, “trauma” and “troubled”.

The findings show that public attitudes are little changed on previous research carried out for Coram by YouGov in 2017, which found “lonely/loneliness”, “sad” and “troubled” to be among the most commonly reported terms to describe children in care.

Today’s survey, part-funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, also reveals that the majority of respondents had some awareness of the unique challenges that care leavers face, highlighting inadequate support into adulthood and difficulty accessing education and jobs. A majority of people (62% to 76%) also favoured a range of support measures for care-experienced young people including education, housing, financial, apprenticeships and mental health support.

The findings are published following the recent launch of Coram’s #RealStoriesOfCare campaign which showcases the personal stories of care-experienced young people today and through history. The campaign has been co-produced with care-experienced children and young people who identified that it would make a huge difference if the diverse experiences of care were more widely understood, with a balance of positive and negative aspects of care, instead of inaccurate or stigmatised perspectives which so often affect them.

Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “Whilst it is encouraging to see that a majority of people recognise the importance of specialist support for young care leavers, the findings also suggest a failure to see children in care and care leavers as individuals who are more than their label of being care experienced.

“Care-experienced children and young people have told us that negative associations can ‘follow them around’, undermining their efforts and limiting their potential. The government’s independent review of children’s social care is a timely opportunity for us all to hear young people’s voices, to ensure we portray their experiences in a more balanced light, and to celebrate their aspirations and achievements. The care-experienced young people working on Coram’s #RealStoriesOfCare campaign are sharing their own inspiring stories and working hard to challenge these limiting and stigmatising attitudes.”

Julian Brown, a care-experienced Ambassador for Coram’s Voices Through Time programme and the creator of the Foundling: Found podcast series, said: “We need to change the notion that those in care are always journeying through life being ‘scared’, ‘lonely’, ‘troubled’, ‘unloved’ and ‘unfortunate’. Just reading these words is degrading in itself. People assume that that is all we may feel or think and that a care-experienced young person’s life cannot improve – if we can change this message, then I believe we can change the public perception around those in care. I know from care-experienced people that I have spoken to that being care has been ‘life-saving’, ‘freedom’, a ‘second chance’ and a ‘life they never knew existed.” 

Read the full report