This report is a follow up to our ‘What Makes Life Good?’ report published in 2020 about the views of care leavers on their well-being using responses collected between 2017 and 2019 through the Your Life beyond Care survey. In this report we compare the ‘What Makes Life Good?’ pre-pandemic data from 1,804 care leavers to data from 2,476 care leavers who responded to the survey in the first year of the pandemic (2020-2021).
It is crucial that we listen to and understand the experiences of care leavers at all times, but especially in challenging times. Responding to young people’s views and experiences respects their rights, acknowledges their expertise, and is the foundation of high-quality services. But local authorities can struggle to engage a wide range of young people. Even where participation in a local authority is strong, often only a minority of young people inform service development. The Your Life Beyond Care survey (part of the Bright Spots programme) has been running since 2017 and offers local authorities the opportunity to hear from more of their young people and in a more systematic way than ever before.
- Our data shows that care leavers have been exceptionally resilient during the pandemic, as have local authorities and practitioners whose efforts should be recognised and praised. The analysis found that measures of care leavers’ stress and anxiety levels and loneliness have remained stable since the pandemic began, as well as optimism about the future. In some areas, the data actually shows small improvements during Covid times, such as for feeling safe in the home, and financial well-being, where 60% of care leavers felt that they were coping financially, compared to 56% prepandemic. This may to be a result of the financial support that was put in place during the pandemic such as the increase in Universal Credit and additional support from local authorities.
- Despite social distancing, our findings showed care leavers still had emotional support in the pandemic and just 5% didn’t have anyone for support, which remains similar to pre-pandemic (6%). Similarly, care leavers are almost as likely to know who their leaving care worker is and slightly more likely to have a stable worker than they did pre-pandemic. A slightly higher proportion also felt that their leaving care workers provided them with emotional support than pre-pandemic (50% prepandemic compared to 47% in 2020-21), and digital connectedness continued to grow during the pandemic.
- However, the pandemic highlighted some areas for concern. Young people have been particularly impacted by the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. In 2020-21 we saw that those in more precarious living situations such as those who are homeless or in custody found it harder to get in touch with their leaving care worker all or most of the time compared to pre-pandemic (though sample sizes were small, fewer than 30, for these groups). Support networks are key in helping care leavers transition to adulthood and are more necessary than ever. However, feeling involved in pathway planning fell slightly from 62% reporting they felt involved pre-pandemic to 59% in 2020-21, which may be due to social distancing constraints.
- It’s important to note that although our data does not show dramatic differences to pre-pandemic times, there were already gaps in how well the care system supported care leavers before the pandemic which still need to be addressed. Our previous work showed that, even before the pandemic, care leavers have disproportionately worse mental health and well-being, suffer from loneliness and isolation, and struggle more financially than young people in the general population.
- Gaps in support are exacerbated if care leavers have long-term disabilities or health conditions or have especially unstable living situations, which again is still the case in 2020-21. Therefore, recovery planning should not aim to see a return to the pre-pandemic care leaver system. It should
instead focus on maintaining some of the positive interventions prompted by the pandemic, while also looking to address long-standing concerns with care leavers’ health and well-being, supporting them to manage the challenges that all young people face as a result of the pandemic.