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Listen Up

Listen Up, a report published in 2010, detailed information provided in a online questionnaire completed by 310 care leavers aged 17 – 78 across the UK in just nine weeks the year before. It was led by myself and the only care leavers organisation in the UK that works with care leavers at any age – the Care Leavers’ Association. This piece of research was, and still is, the largest piece of work of its kind. It was also the first substantial piece of research to focus on care leavers of ALL ages and focus on more than just historic abuse and access to records (the only areas that have generated research).

 

There is a litany of research reports and publications on young people in care and younger care leavers but the focus is predominantly on “outcomes” and “practice implications” rather than experiences. The research on care leavers focuses predominantly on young people aged 16 – 19 which means that our understandings of the in-care and leaving-care experience are limited in a number of ways.

 

We gained, for the first time, some core demographic information on the leaving care population. At a conservative estimate there are approximately 350,000 care leavers in the UK yet we know almost nothing about them. The core information we have about care leavers in employment, education and accommodation etc is only based on care leavers in their late teens and early 20s (at best). Most of us would not want our own children judged on their success or failure at this age. If we did we would find that regardless of their backgrounds we would not find the levels of success we so readily expect of care leavers. Though this report “only” mapped the demographic data of 310 care leavers this is still more data than we have ever had before. However, we still cannot say how representative this data is because we do not know the bigger demographic data.

 

This report found:

    •    41% of male and 59% of female participants;

    •    Largest single age group of respondents was those in the 41 – 50 age group (29%) with a total of those age 31 – 60 making 72% of

          participants overall;

    •    75% had children;

    •    60% were in a relationship

    •    16% identified as being disabled;

    •    10% identified as being lesbian, gay or bisexual;

    •    24% identified as being non-white or non-British;

    •    56% of participants were not living in the same geographical area that they had lived in when growing up in care;

    •    Although 11.5% of participants had no qualifications the highest single cohort of qualifications was 25% of participants who had a

          degree. In total 33% of participants held a degree, masters or PhD as their highest qualification;

    •    Those over the age of 40 had more basic qualifications (GCSE/Standard Grades) than those under the age of 40. Many gave as the

          reason that they felt the modern care system had not “forced” or “supported” young people in full time mainstream school;

    •    Having predominantly lived in foster care or residential care did not make a difference to the educational or employment outcomes

          for care leavers;

    •    In identifying a positive experience of care a third more expressed a positive experience of residential care than of foster care;

    •    85% of participants were in education, employment, training or retirement; and

    •    24% of participants were earning £30,000 or more even though 40% of participants, the majority single cohort, earned less than

          £15,000 a year.

 

Already we can see some important challenges to the dominant narrative of care and the experiences of young people in care and care leavers across the board. This report provides key statistical data about the population of care leavers. More importantly, in some ways, it provides hundreds of in depth experiences of what it has been like to live in and leave the care system in the UK across the 20th Century. The lifelong impact of care is an under-researched and represented area and we need much more data to gain a greater understanding. This research is a fantastic start.

 

We are eternally grateful to all those who participated in the research and provided such personal and sometimes difficult personal experiences of being in and leaving care as well as life since.

 

Read the full report here.

 

Reflections

In the questionnaire we asked a number of interconnected and indepth questions and I am really pleased that we did. So often do researchers syphon off different "practice" elements of life. Rarely do we get the depth and breadth of knowledge that our participants provided with us. It is also a rare occasion to acknowledge that we did this research for nothing - no funding at all. In the take part section of this website there is another similar question for both care leavers, residential workers or foster carers to complete. Again, no funded required. I am really pleased that we had the motivation and time to ensure that we could make space for this Listen up questionnaire regardless of funds. We did not, however, expect such a large response in such a short space of time. It is a shame we had to close the questionnaire after nine weeks. Listen Up is the only report to be developed so far. There has been a lot of time allocated to analysing the findings and future reports and papers will follow.