Young people leaving care, practitioners and the pandemic: Experiences, support, and lessons

Young people leaving care, practitioners and the Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic: Experiences, support, and lessons for the future

In 2020, the emergence of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic significantly disrupted daily life for citizens across the UK. The four nations of the UK sought to prioritise public health and the Coronavirus Act 2020 gave new powers to devolved Governments on areas including health, education and justice (Institute for Government 2020). The ensuing ‘lockdown’, announced by the Prime Minister on the 23rd March 2020 ( 2020), was followed by similar directives in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (Institute for Government 2020).

Debates on the necessary responses to the pandemic, together with discussions about its impact, have frequently highlighted concerns for inequalities. For example, Golightly and Holloway (2020: 637) commented that ‘some [individuals] are much better placed than others to get through this’ while Blundell et al (2020 :292) argued that the pandemic ‘will not affect all in the same way … from health to jobs and to family life … the most vulnerable groups by socio-economic background and health status are also those that may be hit the hardest”.

Compounding these concerns, COVID-19 has impacted on the delivery of social services to both adults and children (Ferguson et al 2020). Issues have been raised about maintaining support for vulnerable groups during this time, as well as responding to increased demand for mental health, domestic violence and safeguarding services (Baginsky and Manthorpe 2020).

The pandemic has prompted a flurry of research activity seeking to understand responses to COVID-19, as well as the needs and experiences of individuals both receiving and delivering social care services during these unprecedented times (Baginsky and Manthorpe 2020; Bhatia 2020; Blake-Holmes 2020; Cook and Zschomler 2020; Dafuleya 2020; Ferguson et al 2020; Henrickson 2020; Iyer et al. 2020; Lingam and Sapkal 2020; O’Sullivan et al 2020; Rambaree and Nassen 2020; Sanfelici 2020; Sengupta and Jha 2020; The Fostering Network 2020; Walter-McCabe 2020). This research project predominantly focused on the Welsh context and aims to contribute to this emerging body of evidence, with a specific focus on the needs, support and experiences of young people leaving local authority care. 

The Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic: Experiences and lessons for the future

The Coronavirus (COVID 19) Pandemic: Young People leaving care and practitioners share their experiences and lessons for the future

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has had a major impact across the world, with a disproportional impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. This research study was designed to contribute to the emerging evidence base exploring both the receipt and delivery of social care support during this period.

The research study was funded by Voices from Care Cymru and CASCADE: Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre. It offered a platform for the views of 21 care experienced young who provided vivid and detailed accounts of their experiences of lockdown. The inclusion of a professional survey with 23 participants enabled consideration of local initiatives providing a valuable backdrop for analysis of young people’s accounts. The study therefore provides important learning for policy makers, social care managers and front-line practitioners who work with care experienced young people and other vulnerable groups.

Encouragingly, the study revealed positive attempts to adapt to the unprecedented working conditions. It was noteworthy that the professionals who responded to our survey were positive about the support that they had provided to care leavers. Efforts to maintain communication with young people, combat loneliness, isolation and boredom, as well as ensure access to resources demonstrated good practice. However, it was noted that efforts to respond to the needs of young people were constrained by the absence of additional funding.

The perspectives of young people sometimes stood in sharp contrast to those of professionals and concerns remain about parity of support within and across areas, and the alignment between support needs and available provision. Our findings did not suggest consultation and inclusion of young people in decision making about new ways of working, and the focus appeared to be on immediate and short-term crisis needs, as opposed to transition planning or taking a rights-based approach. Of particular concern were reports of young people anxious about basic provisions, living in inappropriate accommodation and struggling with absence of mental health support.

However, despite these issues young people valued contact from social workers and social care professionals and positioned this as essential in the COVID-19 pandemic, as illustrated in this poem from one of the care experienced young people who participated in the study.

Times have changed, time is passing,
But our need for you to care is not lapsing,
We may whinge and shout and say we don’t want,
But we do, we really want you to.
We are isolated, changed and really not sure,
We need that face, the one we say we dislike
we need those texts that we never reply to,
We need the language that you share, they hey,
`how are you doing, I am still here’,
This is the real language that cares, the language we need,
The language which shows us not everything has changed,
The language that comforts us, like a weird aunt would send
Which would make us cringe, and smile,
A smile which means something hasn’t changed
-the language you use to show us you care.

You can also watch the Care Leavers and Coronavirus film about the key findings:

We would be pleased to hear from you with any feedback, comments, or suggestions:

Louise Roberts, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University @DrLouiseRoberts


Roberts, L., Rees, A., Bayfield, H., Corliss, C., Diaz, C., Mannay, D. and Vaughan, R. 2020. Young people leaving care, practitioners, and the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic: experiences, support, and lessons for the future. Cardiff: Cardiff University.

Children looked after in Wales

On 31st March 2019, there were 6,845 children looked after in Wales, a further increase of 440 compared to the previous year. As a result, the gap between the rate of children looked after in Wales compared to other parts of the UK has continued to widen.

Within Wales, while most Local Authorities have seen a rise in both the number and rate of children looked after, there is significant variation; and some have seen the rate of children looked after fall since 2014. Using published data, this series of briefings explores what we can say about the factors that are driving these trends and updates the earlier report Analysis of Factors Contributing to Higher Rates of Care in Wales.

  1. Children looked after in Wales: Trends
  2. Children looked after in Wales: Factors contributing to variation in rates
  3. Children looked after in Wales: Flows into and out of care

This post was originally posted by the Wales Centre for Public Policy.

Assessing Parental Capacity to Change when Children are on the Edge of Care: an overview of current research evidence


Authors: Harriet Ward, Rebecca Brown and Georgia Hyde-Dryden

Year: June 2014


Assessing Parental Capacity to Change when Children are on the Edge of Care is an overview of current research evidence, bringing together some of the key research messages concerning factors which promote or inhibit parental capacity to change in families where there are significant child protection concerns. It is intended to serve as a reference resource for social workers in their work to support families where children’s safety and developmental functioning are at risk. Its purpose is also to assist social workers and children’s guardians in delivering more focused and robust assessments of parenting capability and parental capacity to change, and assist judges and other legal professionals in evaluating the quality of assessment work in court proceedings. The report brings together research findings from a wide range of disciplines, which are not otherwise readily available in one location for social workers, family justice professionals and other practitioners with safeguarding responsibilities. The research evidence covered in this report confirms that change is both important and necessary when children are suffering abuse and neglect. However it also makes it clear that change is difficult for everyone, but even harder for those parents who are struggling with an interlocking web of problems. It also takes time. Change is a complex process, and although it can be supported and promoted through effective interagency interventions, it cannot be imposed. It will not happen unless parents are proactively engaged. These are the key messages from the review.

Contested cultures of care: Research with and for the Plus One Community on the Plus One Experience


Authors: Alex Nunn, Tamsin Bowers-Brown, Tom Dodsley, Jade Murden, Tonimarie Benaton, Alix Manning-Jones, The Plus One Community

Year: June 2019


This study was funded by the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Collaborative Outreach Progamme (DANCOP). It focusses mainly on a series of holiday workshops run by the Derby Cultural Education Partnership (CEP) for young people with direct experiences of the care system. The findings reported here result from a variety of qualitative methods and represent the shared understanding of Plus One between researchers from the University of Derby, arts practitioners at Derby Theatre and the other CEP partners and the young people who participate in the programme.

Young People with a Disability Leaving State Care Phase Two Report. Issues, Challenges, Directions The Young People’s Perspective.


Authors: Pamela Snow, Philip Mendes and Delia O’Donohue

Year: N.D.


This report presents the second phase of the Monash University Young People with a Disability Leaving Care Study. The Phase One Report (Mendes, Snow & Broadley, 2013) presented findings from consultations with practitioners from six key agencies in Victoria that provide out of home care services to young people with disabilities, and an analysis of these findings with reference to relevant national and international literature. The consultations in the first phase of the study aimed to explore from the practitioners’ perspective:

– the ongoing support needs of young people with disabilities when leaving care;

– the demographic backgrounds and care experiences of this group of care leavers;

– the specialised transition needs of this group;

– the nature of the existing policy and practice relationships between child protection services and child and adult disability services; and

– practices and policies that would lead to improved outcomes for young people with a disability transitioning from out of home care in Victoria.

Key findings from the first phase report included:

– practitioners themselves believe leaving care planning is inadequate and that this contributes to poor transitions; 

– practitioners are very frustrated by the lack of appropriate housing for young people leaving care;

– interagency collaboration between child protection and disability services is poor; and

– young people who move into adult disability services often experience greatly reduced levels of support.

A qualitative life course study of the educational pathways of care-experienced adults.


Author: Eavan Brady

Year: 2020


This study is about the educational pathways of adults who spent time in out-of-home care as children (‘care-experienced adults’) and those factors that have influenced and shaped these pathways over time. The research is qualitative and uses the life course perspective as both a guiding research paradigm and conceptual framework.

A strong future for young people leaving out-of-home care


Author: Toni Beauchamp

Year: June 2014


Uniting (formerly UnitingCare Children Young People and Families) has conducted a review of Australian and international policy and program approaches relevant to improving outcomes for young people who are transitioning from out-of-home care (OOHC) to adulthood. This paper sets out the key learnings from this review. The paper focuses on the policy changes needed for young people who are transitioning from care across the leaving and aftercare phases. It includes a six-point plan to improve outcomes for young people who are transitioning from OOHC to adulthood. While the paper focuses particularly on the NSW policy context it will also have relevance to readers in other Australian states and territories.

A necessary engagement: An international review of parent and family engagement in child protection


Authors: Mary Ivec, P. Chamberlain and Olivia Clayton

Year: June 2013


This report provides a review of international and national models of engagement, support and advocacy for parents who have contact with child protection systems. How statutory child protection systems engage with parents ultimately affects the outcomes for children, including safety, permanency and wellbeing. While social work practices that emphasise people’s self-determination and strengths are recognised as fundamental to eliciting change in parents when care standards have faltered, there is widespread acknowledgment of the struggle child protection authorities have to meaningfully engage parents and families.

Relationship-based practice and service system expertise to support young people transitioning from out-of-home care in Victoria


Author: Jade Purtell, Philip Mendes

Year: 2020


The Salvation Army Westcare Continuing Care program evaluation final report by Jade Purtell and Philip Mendes (Monash University Department of Social Work)

This is the final report of the evaluation of the Salvation Army Westcare Continuing Care Program, which was based in Melbourne’s Western Metropolitan Region from 2013-19. The program aimed to provide relationship-based support to assist the planning, preparation and support needs of young people during their transition from out-of-home care (OOHC) to independent living.

Young people transitioning from OOHC, often called care leavers or care experienced young people, are recognized globally as a vulnerable group. This is due to a range of circumstances including exposure to childhood disadvantage and sometimes trauma prior to entering care, varied OOHC experiences in terms of levels of placement and carer stability; and limited assistance from family and community connections as they transition from care into adulthood. Nevertheless, they are not a homogeneous group, and vary greatly in terms of their developmental needs and capacity at the time of transition.