2.3 Being ‘looked after’
Social workers have a particular involvement in finding alternative care of all kinds, when service users are moved from their home in the community to other residential accommodation. This may mean working with children who are fostered or placed for adoption, or with adults who are in residential placements or hospital. Social workers also work with both the positive and negative outcomes that affect people as a result of their care experiences. Growing up in local authority care or living in residential care as an adult has the potential to enhance people’s life experiences, but can also have an adverse effect on the individuals involved. For example, a move into residential care for an adult may be a welcome source of support and stimulation but can also lead to ill health, depression and/or a loss of self-esteem. Research studies have attempted to evaluate the outcomes of such social work interventions. For example, the outcomes from kinship care (supported placement with extended family) have been evaluated positively (Aldgate and McIntosh, 2006). The outcomes of adoption placements have been shown to be diverse; ease of adoption has been shown to be related to the age of the child when they are placed for adoption and the support that adopters receive .(Howe and Feast, 2000).
The next activity shows some other experiences of care.
Activity 6 Other experiences of care
First, watch Video 3, ‘Care experienced by young people’, which focuses on Colin, a 19-year-old who faced a number of challenges during his years in care.
Then watch Video 4, ‘Father’s day: our adoption journey’, where Paul and David, adoptive parents to two boys, share their story.
What do these videos show about the impact of growing up in care?
Transcript: Video 3 Care experienced by young people
Transcript: Video 4 Father’s day: our adoption journey
Colin describes a number of difficulties he faced during his time in care. He talks about being moved from place to place and how he felt he had no control over his life. Colin was bullied at school, which he linked to being seen as a child in care. He had difficulty in managing his emotions. He also had difficulty in maintaining his relationship with his family because of his geographical location and lack of telephone access.
Colin’s situation improved when he moved to Broadwood where he formed positive relationships with key workers. His relationship with them was built on trust, and he saw them as genuinely caring and committed to supporting him. He describes Glenda, a senior residential child care worker, as being like a ‘second mum’. Glenda helped him to establish regular contact with his family, which enabled him to strengthen his relationship with his sister who continues to be an important source of support in his life. He feels that the relationships he formed with staff at Broadwood enabled him to turn his life around by building his confidence so as to enable him to live independently and develop strategies to manage his emotions.
The ‘Father’s day’ video footage, by contrast, shows two fathers who are very positive about the richness that the experience of adoption offers both them and their two children.
Intervention and measuring outcomes
The decisions that were made by social workers, and the approach adopted by staff in the children’s homes in Colin’s life, and in the lives of the two fathers and the children adopted by them, are far-reaching. The changes that social workers have the power to implement can make a significant difference in vulnerable people’s lives, and often in positive ways. However, the research evidence about the outcomes for looked after children have been of concern. The reality of poor outcomes for children leaving care has been measurable. Mike Stein, who compiled a review of national and international research, notes that care leavers ‘are more likely than children who have not been in care to have poorer educational qualifications, lower levels of participation on post-16 education, be young parents, be homeless and have higher levels of unemployment, offending behaviour and mental health problems’ (Stein, 2006, p. 273).
The Government has looked at the evidence from research (Stein, 2006) and has aimed to improve the achievements of ‘looked after’ children. In particular, it has looked at ways to strengthen the role of the ‘corporate parent’ (in the shape of local authorities and their staff) and to emphasise the responsibility to improve the educational opportunities of children in care. The responsibilities of local authorities towards care leavers have been specified, and there is a duty to provide a pathway and support plan for children leaving care (College of Social Work, 2015).