Too often, we hear about how young people leaving care have lower levels of emotional wellbeing than their peers. This disparity isn’t surprising considering the additional challenges they face. Care-experienced young people are often described as incredibly resilient, but, without strong and supportive networks around them, young people often feel overwhelmed and isolated when leaving care. We know that care leavers are accelerated into independence at 18, at a time when support from their local authority (LA) and mental health services is significantly reduced. We also know that services in place to support the emotional wellbeing of care leavers vary greatly across local authorities. However, little is known about the specific support or interventions accessed by care leavers, and how effective this support is in meeting their emotional needs.
What are we doing about it?
Working with five LAs (selected largely on diversity of offer, population and geographic location), we are exploring a range of approaches to supporting the emotional wellbeing of care leavers in England. While we will be looking at targeted mental health services, our focus goes beyond this, as our early scoping with stakeholders suggested that these services can be difficult to access and not always suited for the individual needs of care leavers. Instead, we have been focusing on different approaches, models or services that LAs are using, including wider provisions that promote more informal networks of support. Through this work, we are aiming to enable greater understanding of the support available and identify possible areas for improvement.
We have been interviewing practitioners in selected LAs to understand their provisions, what’s working well and why, the barriers or enablers to accessing the right support, and what could be done to improve existing approaches. We are also working with the McPin Foundation to support peer researchers with experience of care to conduct interviews with other care-experienced young people, in which young people can explore their personal experiences of using and accessing services for their emotional wellbeing. The peer researchers will also be working with us to analyse, write up and disseminate our research findings.
What are the benefits of peer research?
It’s crucial that care leavers feel comfortable and safe to share their experiences in interviews, given the sensitive nature of this topic. Peer research allows us to challenge the power imbalances inherent in research, and avoids putting young people in a position in which they feel that they are repeating interactions where they have felt powerless or unheard by professionals. Giving care-experienced young people the opportunity to share their story with someone who has lived similar experiences can help them feel more at ease, understood, and in control of their own narrative.
It’s also about recognising that care leavers have much more to offer to research than just their lived experience. Young people’s expertise extends further than the stories that they can share with us; they are also able to better connect with the stories of their peers, laying the foundations for them to be more natural listeners, facilitators and analysts. Recognising this potential can help to ensure a better experience for interviewees and enable our research to provide a truer reflection of young people’s experiences. In this regard, peer research is one way that we can research issues affecting young people from the inside out.
How can I get involved?
We’re keen to open up our discussions about services and interventions that support care leaver emotional wellbeing to people we don’t usually hear from, and so will be holding two online workshops to discuss our findings from this work and what they mean for those working to support care leavers. We are looking to hear from professionals supporting care leavers with their emotional wellbeing, care leavers themselves, academics working in this field, and others with an interest in this area of policy. The workshops will take place on:
- Tuesday 21 March (6-8pm)
- Wednesday 22 March (3-5pm)
Spaces are limited and will be allocated in the interests of including a variety of experiences and perspectives. If you would like to find out more about the workshops, or are interested in attending, please contact Chloe Juliette (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Note that if you are a professional it would be helpful to know your role and which local authority you’re based in. If you are happy to, please do also let us know if you are care-experienced, however you don’t need to tell us anything else when you reach out.