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The view of young people about being looked after was not, in the main, a happy experience. The quality of care was often inadequate, and that they were marked out as different and as troublemakers just because they were in public care.
According to Westfield Therapeutic Children’s Home,
“The quality of preparation for leaving care, and of the aftercare subsequently provided, may profoundly affect the rest of a young person’s life”.
Other researchers have looked further on the profound effect on ‘looked after children’ by identifying the lapses in many areas of their lives- such as their transition from care to adulthood at an earlier age, lower levels of educational achievement; higher unemployment rates; higher levels of dependency on welfare benefit and higher levels of emotional disturbances.
The research attempts to identify the support systems in place for care leavers and how these support systems may be improved. Therefore, the author aspires to present a literature review that will investigate on the support mechanisms by conducting a research within a social service setting.
The next chapter will discuss key findings through literature review, on the following subtopics: Young care leavers and housing; education and employment.
In chapter three the researcher will explain the methodology which he will be used to undertake the research study. The methods chosen to obtain the data will also be discussed.
The data is presented thematically, analyzed and discussed in chapter four and references are made to the research explored in the literature review.
Chapter five concludes the findings from the research and further recommendations are made
Major studies on young people leaving care
The literature review will look at the major studies on young people leaving care. The studies used to inform this research are Jackson et al. (2003), Dixon and Wade (2006), Mendes and Moslehuddin (2006) and Cashmore et al (2007). The majority of these studies cover various aspects of leaving care especially their difficulties in achieving in education, placed in a well maintained accommodation and help to find employment.
The increased recognition of the problems faced by care leavers was the consequence of a number of actions-by researchers, practitioners, by the small but powerful voice of young people belonging to ‘in care’ groups, and by managers working with care leavers in the statutory and voluntary agencies, who have all come forward supporting and advocating on the behalf of care leavers. It was through their efforts that led to the introduction of new leaving care powers and duties through legislative change in the UK during the 1990s.
Specialist teams have emerged since the mid 80s to respond to what have been described as the core needs of care leavers-for accommodation, education, finance, careers and support networks (Davies, 2000).
It has been argued by Dixon and Wade (2006) that young people were in need of quality housing, in search for employment and are in desperate need of quality education to avoid being driven to abject poverty.
Their study showed that care leavers were generally having poor employment and housing outcomes and are in need of intensive remedial support from leaving care services to assist them back on to the housing and employment ladder.
The poor educational attainment of care leavers has been the subject of research for a number of years. Research carried out by Dixon and Wade (2006) stated that only a minority of care leavers have gained qualifications at school, and that most care leavers have failed to establish a stable pattern of education, training or work in the early years after care and, in consequence, the majority have continued to be financially dependent on state welfare after leaving care.
Jackson et al. (2003) study seems to be consistent with those of Dixon and Wade in relation to care leaver’s lack of qualifications, inability to enrol for long term range of courses and work-experience placements. In their study, they found that only just over one in ten care leavers were studying for a General Certificate of Secondary Education at Advance level.
Dixon and Wade (2006) conducted a base line interview regarding further education for care leavers. In their study, they stated that some 35% of young people were in education. This is considerably higher than figures reported in past studies done by Biehal et al. 1995; and Broad 1998.
Their research findings pointed out that young people also dropped out of education and training placements due to financial difficulties, through being placed on courses unsuited to their abilities or interests, through personal or emotional difficulties in their lives or through lack of support and encouragement to maintain motivation (Dixon and Wade, 2006).
Cashmore et al (2007) make a similar point to that of Dixon and Wade’s (2006) on the educational experiences of young care leavers. In their study they noted that within 12 months after young people have leaved care, just over a third (35.6%) had completed Year 12 in Australia school system. Within 4-5 years after young people have leaved care, Cashmore and Paxman stated that a quarter of young care leavers had no recognized qualifications, as they have left school without completing their Year 12 studies and done no further study, (53)
Mendes and Moslehuddin (2006) study agrees with the above studies on young people and education. In their study, they find that due to a number of factors such as lack of continuity in placements and schools, young people in care are less likely to succeed academically.
Housing is another contested area which has been the subject of research for a number of years. The Northern Leaving Care Consortium make mention of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 (CLCA 2000) and the Homelessness Act 2002 (HA 2002). These acts are designed to ensure that local authority children’s services and housing departments work together to ensure that care leavers accommodation needs are met and have priority need status.
Dixon and Wade (2006) study points to the struggle which care leavers face once they are out of state care. They draw on other studies which have shown a heightened risk of homelessness affecting young people soon after leaving care (Biehal & Wade 1999; Dixon & Stein 2005). Their study explain,
‘Young people’s reliance on family support has been extended… the shortage of affordable housing for young people creating a more protracted context for the transition to adulthood (pg200)
Their research draw on a follow-up interview carried out by 7 local authorities, some 12-15 months after young people have leaved care. Their report finds that care leavers housing circumstances were varied. One-third (31%) were living in independent housing, two-fifths (38%) were living in supported accommodation; 14% were living with family members; 6% were continuing to live with a foster carer after formal discharge from care; and a further 12% were living in ‘other’ settings (Dixon and Wade, 2006)
Almost two-thirds of the young people interviewed (64%) had either stayed in the same accommodation or just made one move since leaving care. The study claimed that the vast majority of these were moved to permanent tenancies. However, just over one-third of the care leavers had made two or more moves, almost one in five (18%) had moved four or more times and over one-third (35%) had experienced homelessness at some stage after leaving care. This finding makes a sounding reading as it leaned towards the development which has been made by the participating local authorities.
In Dixon and Wade’s study, the care leavers who were interviewed confirmed that making a home and a successful home life is a first priority to them when embarking on the journey from care to adulthood.
Another study on housing funded by the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services (C4EO) looked at the increasing number of care leavers in settled and safe accommodation. The study acknowledged that for most care leavers, getting their own place to live is top of the list of the ‘best things about leaving care. They want a place of safety, security and somewhere that they can call their own’ (Morgan and Lindsey 2006 p 6)
Wade and Dixon’s (2006) research indicated that housing was the factor most closely associated with mental health, young care leavers accelerated and complex transitions to adulthood. Their evidence suggests that too many young care leavers become the victims of society, much of which are often profoundly associated with housing. It is widely acknowledged that young care leavers comprise a significant sector of the population of young homeless.
Mendes and Moslehuddin (2006) study into care leaver’s vulnerability argue,
‘Young people leaving out of home care are arguably one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society. As compared to other young people outside of care, they face particular difficulties in accessing educational, employment, housing and other developmental and transitional opportunities’ (p110).
Their study added that these care leavers are less likely to succeed academically, which then hinders their efforts to find and maintain employment. Many become dependent on social security and experience acute poverty (Mendes and Moslehuddin 2006).
Literature Review Conclusion
From the literature review it is evident that:
Care leavers have been found to be disadvantaged in many areas of their lives- such as:
having to be independent at a much younger age as in comparison to their peers outside of care
lower levels of educational achievement
higher unemployment rates
higher levels of dependency on welfare benefit and
Higher levels of emotional disturbances.
In comparison to the majority of their peers, care leavers lacked stability, motivation and encouragement. Research studies have evidenced that care leavers have very few role models, which in effect puts so much constraint on social workers as they may have to face with difficulties in preparing young care leavers with the realities of adulthood in the wider community.
The Children (Leaving Care) Act (C(LC)A) 2000, aim was to bring the process of moving ‘looked after’ children to independent living more in line with the experience of other children, where the main transitions between youth and adulthood are both protracted and later than in previous decades.
Doing a research according to Kumar (2005) is similar to undertaking a journey. He stated that there are two important decisions one has to make when deciding to do a research. First, one has to decide what they want to find out about, in other words, what research questions they want to find out about. Secondly, one needs to think how to go about finding their answers. The path to finding answers to their research questions constitutes research methodology (Kumar, 2005:16).
Kumar highlight the practical steps through which one must pass in their research journeys in order to find the answers to their research questions. The sequence of these steps is not absolute (Kumar, 2005). At each operational step in the research process one is required to choose from a multiple of methods, procedures and models of research methodology which will help them to best achieve their objectives. This is where one’s knowledge base of research methodology plays a crucial role.
According to Kumar (2005) there are two types of research: quantitative (positivist) and qualitative (phenomenological). The main objective of a quantitative study is to describe the variation in a phenomenon, situation or attitude, whereas qualitative research in addition, helps one to quantify the variation.
When analyzing data in qualitative research, Kumar (2005) stated that, one must go through the process of identifying themes and describing what they have found out during their interviews or observation rather than subjecting their data’s to statistical procedures.
Marshall and Grossman (2006) summed up the differences between qualitative and quantitative research. They stated that ‘qualitative research takes place in the natural world, it uses multiple methods that are interactive and humanistic, it focuses on context and it is fundamentally interpretive. Qualitative research unlike quantitative research views social phenomena holistically, it systematically reflects on who the person is in the interview, and is sensitive to a person’s biography and how it shapes the study. Qualitative research uses complex reasoning that is multifaceted and iterative’ (p.3)
This research will be using a qualitative approach, the reason being it focuses on individual lived experience, their society and culture, language and communication. It searches for a deeper understanding of the participant’s lived experiences of the phenomenon under study (Marshall and Grossman (2006:55).
The qualitative approach focuses on people’s attitudes and reasons for something, which is usually done by way of interview or observation. The quantitative approach is applied when there is a need to test or a need to verify facts and the information is defined and precise, thus easily prepared.
This is a small scale study and therefore the researcher will not employ the grounded theory approach to demonstrate the themes and group the findings. However, the research will be using a qualitative approach, which will incorporate grounded theory instead, in order to analyse the findings and highlight the various themes and categorise the data.
In qualitative research although researchers are concerned with maintaining rigor, the emphasis is on trustworthiness, achieved through careful work in constructing the research design and approach, conducting the research ethically, honestly and analysing findings carefully. The qualitative approach would be ideal to explore the needs of young care leavers. Particular attention will be made to issues of housing, education and employment. In addition, the researcher will attempt to look at the role social workers, as well as foster carers have played in enhancing support/assistance to young care leavers prior to leaving care and after care. The purpose of this research is to build upon existing studies.
The Case Study
Case study research by definition is focused on a single, relatively bounded unit (Gerring, 2007:33). The case study, like other research strategies, is a way of investigating an empirical topic by following a set of pre-specified procedures. It is a study in which (a) one case (single case study) or a small number of cases (comparative case study) in their real life context are selected, and (b) scores obtained from these cases are analysed in a qualitative manner (Dul and Hak, 2007 p4).
The case study of an individual, group, organisation, all rest implicitly on the existence of a micro-macro link in social behaviour (Gerring, 2007pg1). Gerring argues:
‘The case study is a form of a cross-level inference. Sometime, in-depth knowledge of an individual example is more helpful than fleeting knowledge about a larger number of examples. We gain better understanding of the whole by focusing on a key part’. (2007:1)
Critics of the case study method believe that the study of a small number of cases can offer no grounds for establishing reliability or generality of findings. Others feel that the intense exposure to study of the case biases the findings.
Some dismiss case study research as useful only as an exploratory tool. Yet researchers continue to use the case study research method with success in carefully planned and crafted studies of real-life situations, issues, and problems.
Some critics believe that the case study as a research method is not representative of entire populations and neither does it claim to be. It is not methodologically invalid simply because selected cases cannot be presumed to be representative of entire populations.
Another criticism levelled at the case study as a research method is that findings are possibly unique to the particular circumstances of the case and therefore cannot be generalised to other cases. Generalisation is a fallacy that occurs when a conclusion is based on insufficient evidence. Sometimes this fallacy is simply a matter of too few pieces of information.
Validity is at the core of any research. In qualitative research it addresses whether a person’s research explains or measures what they said they would be measuring or explaining. It deals with the appropriateness of the method to the research question (Mason, 1996).
According to Onwuegbuzie (2003a), researcher bias occurs when the researcher has personal biases that he/she is unable to bracket. This bias may be subconsciously transferred to the participants in such a way that their behaviours, attitudes, or experiences are affected. Researcher bias does not occur only at the data collection stage, it can also prevail at the data analysis and data interpretation phases.
Reactivity refers to a number of facets related to the way in which a study is undertaken and the reactions of the participants involved (Onwuegbuzie, 2003a). It involves changes in persons’ responses that result from being cognizant of the fact that one is participating in a research investigation. For example, the mere presence of observers during a study may alter the typical responses of the group that provide rival explanations for the findings, which, in turn, threaten internal credibility at the data collection stage.
Triangulation involves the use of multiple and different methods, investigators, sources, and theories to obtain corroborating evidence. It reduces the possibility of chance associations, as well as of systematic biases prevailing due to a specific method being utilized, thereby allowing greater confidence in any interpretations made.
The methods chosen were interviews and questionnaires. Interviewing provides access to the context of people’s behaviour and thereby provides a way for researchers to understand the meaning of that behaviour (Seidman, 2006).
‘At the heart of interviewing research is an interest in other individual’s stories because they are of worth. That is why people whom we interview are hard to code with numbers… Interviewing also allows us to put behaviour in context and provides access to understanding their action’ (Seidman, 2006:10).
The weakness of interview is that interviewees does not always cooperate with the interview process, and may in fact try to disrupt the flow of the interview and take control. Interviewing is also emotionally tiring and for a novice researcher there is the possibility that they may loose the focus of the interview. Also, due to the presence of the interviewer may affect the respondent’s reply and the data may become distorted.
Another disadvantage to interview is that Interviewers may introduce bias into the data by failing to follow the interview schedule in the prescribed manner or may suggest answers to respondents. Bias may also be introduced through a respondent’s reaction to the interviewer’s sex, race, and manner of dress or personality.
Questionnaires are a practical way of collecting information, as it involves little personal involvement. Questionnaires have many advantages and the greatest of these according to McNabb (2004) is the considerable flexibility of the questionnaire. It can be short or long, simple or complex, straightforward or branched. Usually, respondent’s answers are relatively easy to code and tabulate, which can reduce turnaround time and lower project cost. They can be custom-designed to meet the objectives of almost any type of research project, whereas interviews allow the researcher to have more in-depth involvement with the participants (McNabb, 2004).
In designing the questionnaires various styles of questions were used including a number of open ended questions which are useful, especially during exploratory phases of a research. Open ended questions do not suggest possible answers, but allow the respondent to answer in his or her own words.
The disadvantages of using questionnaire are that sometimes it is difficult to “code” responses to open-ended questions because people’s answers may be ambiguous.
Questionnaires should be relatively short to maintain interest and encourage response. For example, postal questionnaires tend to discriminate against the less literate members of society, and are known to have a higher response rate from the middle classes (Curvin and Slater, 2008))
According to Curvin and Slater (2008) there are 5 possible objectives for a question, (1) to find out if the respondent is aware of the issue, (2) to get general feelings on an issue, (3) to get answers on specific parts of the issue, (4) to get reasons for a respondent’s views and finally (5) to find out how strongly these views are held’ (, p.69).
Participant observation is another recognised method within a case study. However, for the purpose of this research, it plays no further part. It was rejected due to the fact that it was difficult to arrange for a suitable time to meet foster carers and the social workers. Also, the care leaver social worker would not assure the researcher that the young person would agree to allow the researcher to observe their interactions because of the short notice given.
Proposed research design
A research design is a kind of a blue print of the procedures, methods and techniques to be used during research. It shows the sequence in which the various steps in the research will be taken in order to find an answer to the questions posed by the problem under investigation. The aim of research is to measure certain objects with regard to specific factors and to track down links between these factors. It consists of mainly one or more standard designs-case study, survey, secondary analysis, content analysis, simulation and experiment (Creswell, 2009)
The study focuses on foster carers/social workers who work directly with young care leavers in helping them to gain better education, and housing which in turn lead to care leavers securing employment. The approach which the researcher will use will be the case study approach; this is because the author will be focusing on a single organisation, which will be in a social service setting.
Once the methodology of the research has been decided on, the next step is to select the sample. Sampling is the process of selecting a subset of cases in order to draw conclusions about the entire set. It is unavoidable given the scientific goal of generalisation; and it requires special attention in social research given the inherent variability of social units of analysis.
The procedure for selecting a sample is called sampling design. Probability sampling is based on a process of random selection, which gives each case in the population an equal chance of being included in the sample, whilst on the other hand; a non probability sampling such as purposive sampling involves the careful selection of typical cases or of cases that represent relevant dimensions of the population. For this study, a non-probability sampling will be used. This is because social researchers try to approximate probability samples when a complete and accurate sampling frame is beyond reach. The goal is to sampled respondent who are relevant to the research questions that are being posed. The interviewer has decided to use social workers and foster carers but not the care leavers themselves mainly of the issues surrounding their availability when needed and also due to the limited time to complete this study as well as issues to do with consent.
For the purpose of the research, the data will be collected by means of a questionnaire and interviews (semi-structured). The researcher decided to distribute in total 12 questionnaires (6 selected foster carers and 6 selected social workers). The questionnaires were coded, so that after collection, the data could be assembled effectively.
A semi-structured interview is the preferred method use instead of a full structured interview because this will enable the researcher to probe the respondent’s answers for clarity and if necessary for more description. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted to 3 foster carers and three social workers. Interviews will also be appropriate because within qualitative research they enable the researcher to acquire more detailed data, which will support or oppose the data received in the questionnaires. The interviews will be recorded.
Within any research study raw data collected from questionnaires and interviews need to be noted, analysed and interpreted, in order to reach a sound conclusion.
Presentation of data and discussion
The data collected during this research were organised by themes and then presented under relevant sub-headings. The interviewer will first present the questionnaire data and then followed by the interview data. For the purpose of analysing the data, the researcher has used a coding system, which has been defined below.
S.W= Social Worker, Question= Q and Interview=Int
Overall, twelve questionnaires were sent out social workers within a social care setting, working for a local authority in the South East area of London. From the 12 questionnaires sent, only 4 social workers were able to return their questionnaires.
From the interview which was conducted, only the social work manager was able to provide information regarding care leaver’s education, housing and employment.
From the literature review discussed earlier, education appeared to be one of the areas in which young carer leavers are badly let down, though it is regarded as the most effective long term solution for tackling problems of social exclusion. Young care leavers without education are at a personal and an institutional disadvantage.
Questions about this area were dealt with in the questionnaires.
In the questionnaires, all 4 respondents confirmed that they were in the process of preparing a care leaver for independent or supported housing, and education. For those social workers who participated, they confirmed that they have liaised with other agencies seeking professional guidance to support care leavers to be on training schemes or on employment.
How do social workers support care leavers, who want to continue in higher education?
From the questionnaires, all 4 respondents replied this question. Their overall answer is that they felt they supported the children in every way possible, starting from attending their Personal Educational Plan (PEP) meetings, emergency school meetings and other priority meetings relevant to their educational needs. They felt that the local authority social services would always assist with future training up to the age of 21 years and this could be extended to the age of 24 if they are in higher education. They expressed that they provided them with travelling allowances and any extra cost towards buying school materials.
However, during the interview with S.W 3, she remarked that the aforementioned provision only apply for student in higher education but not those in college. This she says is due to the Emergency Maintenance Allowances (EMA) they are receiving from college. For this reason, they would not be entitled to any financial assistance.
S.W. 3 said:
“I felt awfully bad for young people who want to go to university at 19, but can’t get a grant, income support or job seekers allowance. It is appalling that Young bright unaccompanied minors are constantly denied the opportunity to further their education due to the restriction on their entitlement”
From the literature review, Stein (2006) highlighted that care leavers face additional disadvantages because of their status or characteristics. They stated that denying them the education they so desired would exposed them to poverty.
Stein study also suggests that successful educational outcomes are more closely associated with placement stability and being looked after longer.
Stability in care leaver’s education
S.W. 4 stated:
“From my experience in working with care leavers, those who go on to do well in school after care are those who had had stable placement. …in return their education did not suffer”.
S.W.3 suggests why care leavers are in need of stability in order to attain educational success. She stated that:
“Children’s stability is about their friends, family, healthcare, school and their community and thus the service should aim to ensure that care leavers are not left out and denied this opportunity”
Research has highlighted that local authority social services acting as ‘corporate parent’ must actively seek to reduce disruption and instability to avoid social exclusion and accumulative disadvantage in the lives of young people.
S.W. 2 commented that:
“Due to the excessive case loads which I have, once a placement has broken down, my first priority is the young person’s stability and him/her getting settled as soon as possible in another placement. However, I do realise that placement changes do affect the young person’s education”
S.W.1 did not comment on the above question and left it as blanked.
Children who are excluded from school
This is another theme which those S.W’s who were interviewed commented about. This theme was not incorporated into the literature review. The researcher would have included this issue if he had sufficient time to do so.
“She felt that some young people never settled, as they always moved from one placement to another due to placement disruptions. I have had a young person who stated that every time he got moved, he felt rejected and this affects his self esteem and confidence”
“I found it hard to get the school to reconsider or find another school that would be willing to take a young person known to have history of disruptive behavior”
How do social workers help with housing?
3 of the 4 S.W.s shared that they did followed the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 (CLCA 2000) and the Homelessness Act 2002 (HA 2002)’s recommendations to provide accommodation for care leavers, who have a priority need status by working with housing departments.
In the questionnaire, all 6 respondents were asked to explain whether they have assist care leavers to have their own accommodation. Only 2 respondents answered this question. From the questionnaire S.W. 1 reply was:
“The first thing I would do is to help a care leaver with his/her housing application form for lodgings, hostel, foyer, housing Association flat, council flat or private flat and any interviews that may be required to aid the bidding process”
In the questionnaire all six respondents were asked, in the last 4 months, how many of their care leavers had secured permanent accommodation in either housing or council accommodation. Only one respondent answered this question. From the questionnaire S.W 4 reply was:
“Every 1 out of 10 housing applications made b
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