Study shows almost 25% of girls in care were unhappy with their lives compared to 14% for all girls
Girls who are in care feel the stigma of their situation more keenly than boys, are much more likely to worry about their appearance and less likely to enjoy school, a study has revealed.
The study found that girls aged 11-18 in care were less likely to say life was worthwhile and were more negative about the future than boys.
Both boys and girls in care expressed concern at how often the professionals who look after them move on with almost a third of 11-18-year-olds reporting they were allocated three or more different social workers within a year.
Half of younger children, aged four to seven, and more than a quarter of teenagers did not fully understand why they were in care, according to the study Our Lives Our Care from the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies and the children’s rights charity Coram Voice.
Its aim was to find out how the 70,000 looked after children in England alone viewed their lives.
While the Department for Education publishes “outcome” data on looked after children’s education, offending, mental health, and number of teenage pregnancies, there is no information collected on how children themselves feel about their well-being and their lives in care.
The study found some positives, with 80% of the 611 children from six local authority areas who took part in the study reporting that being in care had improved their lives. More than 90% said they trusted their carers.
But girls were less positive than boys. While the rate of looked after boys who expressed unhappiness at their lives was around the same as boys in the general population, almost a quarter of girls in care reported dissatisfaction compared with 14% for all girls.
Girls were more likely to comment on how being in care made them feel different. One girl, who was in the 11-18 age bracket, said she wanted to be: “A normal child. Not having to get permission to go on school trips, holidays and staying at friends’ houses.” Twenty three per cent of girls said they were unhappy with their appearance – against 14% in the general population.
Not knowing exactly why they are in care was flagged up by many. One young person (11-18 years) wrote: “I would like someone to talk to about my feelings and tell me about my past. I would like to see a picture of my dad so I know what he looks like. I would like to see a picture of me as a baby. I have never seen a picture of me. I have a lot of questions that no one answers.”
Children highlighted the importance of having a trusted adult in their lives. But nearly a third of those aged 11-18 reported that they had been allocated three or more different social workers in the year. One young person’s response to a question asking “What would make care better?” wrote: “By not having 14 social workers in three years.”
Julie Selwyn, director of the Hadley Centre and lead author of the study, said: “The results raise important questions about the difference in caring for girls and boys and supports the need for a more ‘gender aware’ approach to be taken. The findings highlight the need for more continuity of social workers and show that efforts to support children in care are having positive outcomes.”
Carol Homden, chief executive officer of Coram said: “It is incredibly heartening that such large majority of looked after children feel that their lives have improved since coming into care and this is a testimony to the commitment of many local authorities to the children for whom they are the ‘corporate parent’.
“However there is still much that we all need to do to improve the wellbeing and life chances of looked after children and ensure they have the support and reassurance they need to successfully make their way in the world.”
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