What's at stake
An overwhelming majority of the 100,000 young people in the UK in care face dreadful outcomes as care leavers, often determined by their experiences both prior to and during their care settings.
The number of children looked-after due to abuse or neglect is at the highest level ever recorded in both England and NI and the second highest in Wales; since the ‘Baby P’ case in 2007 the number of Looked-After Children in England has risen from 60,000 to almost 84,000.
There has been a 25% rise in the number of Looked-After Children over the last 10 years, with 72,670 children Looked-after in England (March 2017). With a fairly even split between males (56%) and females (44%). The DfE estimates that 62% of these Looked-After Children go into care as a consequence of abuse or neglect (Wales = 67.5%) while Conti et al., (NSPCC, 2017) report that 93% of Looked-after Children have suffered abuse or neglect.
Current data supports the concern that only 6% of care experienced young people enter University in the UK (age 19-21) and only 4% graduate. Recent research places the figure at 13% of care experienced students progressing to university aged 19-23 compared to 43% of their peers (Harrison et al., 2021).
GCSE outcomes are among the key predictors for university entry and for Looked-After Children are significant barriers to university careers.
Such painfully poor outcomes are almost guaranteed by widespread placement and school instability and the resulting revolving door of inconsistent adults who are not sufficiently invested in these young peoples’ futures. 33% of Looked-after Children (age 10+) experience 2 or more placements in one year. In 2016/17, 9,110 children had three or more placements – this represented 10.3% of Looked-After Children in England; 10.5% of Looked-after Children in Wales; 5% of Looked-after Children in NI; 5.4% of Looked-after Children in Scotland. Some Looked-after Children experience as many as 10 placements in one year (240), while the children most likely to have multiple placements (3 or more) are teenagers aged 13 – 16 years (13 yrs= 21%, 14 yrs = 22%, 15 yrs = 24%, 16 yrs = 21%). Long term foster care only provides stability for a minority of Looked-After Children, with only 17% remaining in the same placement for more than five years.
Post compulsory education outcomes are equally shocking and the life opportunities for care leavers are significantly impacted by their experiences. Approximately 25% of care leavers experience homelessness within the first 2 years of independence. Changes in legislation ensure local authorities support more young people beyond the age of 18; however this is focused upon those in full time education, giving added impetus to the First Star Scholars UK programme to support care leavers into higher education.
This need is compounded by the recognised risk of incarceration, with those with care experience making up 23% of the adult prison population and approximately 40% of prisoners under 21 (compared to 2% of the general population). Looked-After Children are four times as likely to have a mental health difficulty than their peers and are much more likely to have run away from home (at some point in their lives), than their peers. A quarter of young women leaving care are pregnant or already mothers, with nearly half becoming mothers by age 24.
A Number of acronyms are used in literate policy and legislation – we use these in relation to their source. These include
LAC – Looked-After Children
The UK is
- ranked 24th out of 29 among developed nations for well-being of children in education;
- ranked in the bottom third of developed nations for infant mortality rates;
- ranked 29th out of 29 for participation in further education (among the world’s richest nations)
- Care experienced individuals have benefits as their main activity in any of their first 8 years post-secondary school.
UNICEF Office of research, Child well-being in rich countries. A comparative overview. Innocenti Report Card 11
Issues for children
Nationally only 17.5% of young people in care obtain a basic pass at GCSE in English and Maths compared to 59% of their peers, figures that have not changed notably for over a decade.
care experienced people's outcomes
- 40% of care leavers aged 19-21 were not in employment or training (NEET) compared to 16% of the general population;
- 10% of care leavers aged 19-21 were living in semi-independent transitional accommodation (2016/17);
- 74% of Local Authority housing schemes give preference to care leavers;
- 13% of care leavers said they were unable to rent private accommodation because the landlord was unwilling to accommodate them;
- 57% of care leavers feel unsafe in their accommodation when they first leave care;
- 42% of care leavers feel ready to live independently when they leave care;
- Many care leavers don’t engage with the life skills needed to live independently, not realising how important these are until after they leave care
- 44% of care leavers said the housing benefit was insufficient to pay the rent and that it often went straight to the landlord so they didn’t know how much benefit they were getting;
- Nearly 20% of care leavers felt that they had no one to turn to for help;
- The Children and Social Work Act (2017) now gives care leavers a personal advisor until they are 25;
- Over 30% of care leavers misuse alcohol or other drugs within a year of leaving care;
- Many care leavers feel alone and experience loneliness, depression, anxiety and poor emotional health and well-being;