This paper is based on a study of the experiences of people identified as ‘young carers’, commissioned by the National Assembly for Wales as part of a wider review of carers’ needs and services. Following a brief review of some of the previous research in this area, the paper reports key findings of the research, using the words of children and young people as much as possible. It then goes on to explore some of the wider implications of this and other research for the identification and support of ‘young carers’ and their families, and for the understanding of the needs and wishes of children and young people so defined. The paper concludes with an alternative definition of a ‘young carer’ and with some recommendations for professional practice, suggesting that the role of social work is crucial in this area of service.
Research over the past 20 years has consistently shown that children in public care fall behind at school, seldom achieve good qualifications, and are much less likely than their peers to go on to further or higher education. However, a small minority of looked‐after children do well academically. This paper examines the opinions of 38 high‐achieving young people who spent at least a year in residential or foster care on what they think are the best ways to enhance the educational experience of looked‐after children. An evaluation of four key questions from a semistructured interview highlighted the importance of foster carers, residential workers, social workers and teachers in providing support and encouragement for academic achievement. On the other hand, many of these individuals emphasized their dislike of being ‘singled out’ by the teacher. A third of the participants believed that negative stereotypes and low expectations of children in care among professionals and care providers were major obstacles to their educational success. Over half the sample reported that in many children’s homes basic necessities such as books, a desk and a quiet place to do homework were lacking. In addition their opportunity to engage in outside interests and hobbies was severely limited. By contrast, for these individuals foster care had provided better opportunities. On entering higher education the majority of the participants had faced severe problems. They stressed the need for continuing financial support and adequate year‐round accommodation, because, unlike most students, these care leavers usually have no parental home to return to during university vacations. A third of participants also felt a strong desire for a ‘guardian angel’ to support and encourage them during their time at university. The paper concludes that the views of these thoughtful and resilient individuals should be taken very seriously and translated into improvements in policy and practice. Official guidance now highlights the importance of education for looked‐after children, but changing attitudes and priorities at ground level presents a major challenge.
Aims-To assess the health needs and provision of health care to school age children in local authority care. Methods-A total of 142 children aged 5 to 16 in local authority care, and 119 controls matched by age and sex were studied. Main outcome measures were routine health care, physical, emotional, and behavioural health, health threatening and antisocial behaviour, and health promotion. Results-Compared with children at home, those looked after by local authorities were significantly more likely to: experience changes in general practitioner; have incomplete immunisations; receive inadequate dental care; suVer from anxieties and diYculties in interpersonal relationships; wet the bed; smoke; use illegal drugs; and have been cautioned by police or charged with a criminal oVence. They also tend to receive less health education. They were significantly more likely to have had a recent hearing or eye sight test, and reported significantly less physical ill health overall. Conclusions-The overall health care of children who have been established in care for more than six months is significantly worse than for those living in their own homes, particularly with regard to emotional and behavioural health, and health promotion. In contrast to uncontrolled observational studies we have not found evidence of problems with the physical health of these children. (Arch Dis Child 2001;85:280-285) Keywords: looked-after children; physical health; emotional and behavioural health; health promotion No comparative controlled study of the health and health needs of children in the care system has yet been reported, but there have been uncontrolled observational studies from Britain and the United States with findings that give cause for concern. Children entering the care system often come from severely disadvantaged families and are at high risk of poor mental and physical health.
Among the many disadvantages suffered by children looked after by local authorities, low educational achievement probably has the most serious consequences for their future life chances. This article reviews research over nearly twenty years which consistently shows that children in residential and foster care fall progressively behind those living with their own families and leave school with few qualifications, if any. Until recently child-care agencies and social workers have shown little interest in the educational progress of children for whom they are responsible. Findings from a study of young people previously in care who have been educationally successful confirm that education is crucially important for the quality of their adult life. However, this and other consumer studies indicate that at present the care system is more likely to put additional obstacles in their way than to make any particular effort to compensate for their earlier disadvantages. It is suggested that local authorities and their social workers need to give the same degree of primacy to education as do well-informed parents looking after their own children. Some promising new approaches aim to address the problem at different levels: structural, attitudinal and practical.
Sonia Jackson and Sarah Ajayi report findings from the first UK study of young people in care who go to university. They suggest that foster care could play a major role in enabling more looked after children to access higher education and complete their courses successfully
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