Since 2017, we have been asking children and young people (age 4 – 18 years old) who are looked after to complete online surveys on how they feel their lives are going. Currently, there is no national collection of children and young people’s views on their wellbeing. National measures tend to focus on negatives and do not tell us whether children feel they are being enabled to flourish in care. The surveys were designed with and by children and ask about four areas: relationships, rights, resilience and recovery. Surveys are commissioned by local authorities to help them hear what children in their care have to say about their experiences. The surveys form part of the Bright Spots programme delivered by Coram Voice, which encourages local authorities to respond with a pledge to their children on practice and policy improvements.

A striking finding from the analysis of more than 6,000 surveys has been the number of children and young people who feel the reason why they are in care has not been explained. About half of children (4-7years old) a third of children (8-10 year old) and 20% of children and young people (11-18 years old) wanted more information and for an adult to explain. Children in stable placements were more likely to be satisfied with the extent of their knowledge.  Not understanding (especially for girls) was associated with very low well-being and feeling unsettled in placement. It was surprising that length of time in care and contact with parents did not contribute to greater understanding. Children wrote many poignant comments about how they felt about lacking knowledge.  Children wrote:

They call it life story work …but they don’t really do it. I have a memory box, but I want information and facts …. To know more about how I came into care. I think I should have been told years ago. (11-18 years old)

‘Why do people not tell me the whole truth [about] not being able to talk to my birth mother?’ (8-10 years old)

If I knew why I had a social worker, I would understand more (4-7 years old)

Children and young people asked for carers and professionals to be honest and open, not to delay or avoid, and to talk about their histories and families when they wanted to know more. As a result of the survey findings some local authorities have introduced specific training for social workers on talking with young children, finding the right words, while others have added a question into every review asking if the child would like to know anything more.

Julie Selwyn – Professor of Education and Adoption, CBE, The Rees Centre, Department of Education, University of Oxford,

For more information on this study see: Staines, Jo and Selwyn, Julie. 2020. ‘I wish someone would explain why I am in care’: The impact of children and young people’s lack of understanding of why they are in out-of-home care on their well-being and felt security. Child & Family Social Work  Visit practice examples and messages from children in care and care leavers.