This exploratory study aimed to better understand the services that local authorities (LAs) provide to care leavers to support their emotional wellbeing. An evidence review and in-depth qualitative work with five English LAs were carried out to explore care leavers’ emotional wellbeing needs, the services available to them, and barriers and facilitators to accessing these services. Results showed that support offered across LAs is highly varied, and limited research has been conducted to understand the impact of services. Holistic support was preferred by care leavers as it accounted for a broad range of needs. There were a range of common practical barriers to being able to access support.
Young people leaving care go through a significant period of change in their lives as they transition into adulthood and out of children’s services. Research shows that care leavers experience worse wellbeing outcomes than their non-care experienced peers, particularly in terms of mental health and markers of wider emotional wellbeing, such as isolation. Although LAs are required to provide practical and wellbeing support to care leavers (often primarily through an allocated Personal Advisor), there is limited statutory guidance on what emotional wellbeing support should be provided. Additionally, little is known about what emotional wellbeing support is offered by individual LAs across England; this exploratory study was designed to better understand provision and best practice.
Three strands of work were carried out as part of the project:
- An evidence review to synthesise existing evidence on mental health services for care-experienced young people (conducted by the Centre for Evidence and Implementation)
- A qualitative study to explore emotional wellbeing support in five English LAs selected for diversity in offer (Liverpool, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, Stockport, Surrey and Worcestershire), supported by a review of publicly available information about support offers in LAs
- A deliberative workshop to discuss the findings and priorities for policy and practice.
We conducted 46 interviews with care leavers and staff as part of the qualitative study, with a thematic analysis conducted on generated data. Peer researchers, supported by the McPin Foundation, carried out interviews with care leavers, and contributed to data analysis. These results were triangulated with the findings from the evidence review and discussed with 25 deliberative workshop participants, who validated findings and generated recommendations for policy and practice.
- We found that models of emotional wellbeing support for care leavers are typically not well-defined within LAs, and there is considerable variation in service provision across England. LAs tend to rely on voluntary sector services and general population health and social care services
- Personal Advisers (PAs) are central to providing care leavers with emotional wellbeing support, and positive relationships between PAs and care leavers were described as crucial to facilitating access to services through LAs
- Services designed specifically for care leavers were preferred and tended to be described by participants as more accessible (although were often designed to support low-intensity needs), as were models of support that approached emotional wellbeing holistically and accounted for a broad range of needs
- Key barriers to access included: high thresholds for acceptance into, and retention with, services, practical access to appointments, and services that did not recognise and account for diversity, care leavers’ experiences and internalised stigma (internal negative societal narratives about care leavers)
- Generally, there was no routine monitoring of the impact of emotional wellbeing support provided by LAs, and there was a broader lack of evidence on the effectiveness of mental health support for care-experienced young people and how different identities (such as gender or ethnicity) may impact on their experiences of support.
The results of this study suggest that LAs should take a dual approach to supporting wellbeing, focusing on both emotional wellbeing and practical support; this would enable LAs to meet both the basic needs and emotional wellbeing needs of care leavers. The findings of the study also suggest that LAs should seek to improve the consistency and diversity of their support offer, and statutory guidance or other government-level support should be provided to help LAs do so. The capacity of PAs could be increased, both in terms of caseloads and training, so that they have more time to work with care leavers individually and have appropriate training and support to meet mental health needs. More work should be done to evaluate emotional wellbeing services for care leavers, and to routinely monitor care leaver’s emotional wellbeing to understand the most effective ways to offer support.