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Our Lives, Our Care: Looked after children’s views on their well-being

Listening to children and young people’s wishes and feelings should be universal, but it isn’t. How children feel about their lives and the care they receive should be central to understanding the quality of care. Instead, it is often adults – carers and professionals – who share their own interpretations of what a positive care system does and should look like.

The Bright Spots Programme was set up to understand what is important to children in care and share the learning on where children are doing well by developing a framework to compare children’s experiences in different
local authorities.

Data are collected nationally on the outcomes of children in care, but none on how children themselves feel about their lives in care. Research has shown that subjective well-being correlates with other outcomes such as educational attainment, health and employment prospects (DfE, 2011; Gutman & Vorhaus 2012;
Helliwell 2013; ONS 2014).

Measuring subjective well-being enables us to understand children’s experience of care by putting their voice at the centre. The University of Bristol and Coram Voice developed the Bright Spots Well-Being Indicators to capture the specific domains that were important to looked after children – recognising their unique experiences and that they differ from children in the general population. The indicators are measured by the ‘Your Life, Your Care’ survey.

The indicators were developed from literature reviews, roundtable discussions with professionals and, importantly, from what 140 looked after children and young people told us through focus groups and individual interviews. They have been carefully tested and piloted to ensure that they are robust measures of what is important to children’s well-being.

This report summarises the findings from the 611 children and young people who completed the Bright Spots’ ‘Your Life, Your Care’ survey in six local authority areas, we conclude the report with recommendations for policy and practice.

At March 31st 2016, there were 70, 440 looked after children in England (Department for Education, 2016). The majority of children are looked after because of
parental abuse and neglect and often enter care with physical, emotional and behavioural difficulties (Meltzer et al., 2003; Sempik et al., 2008). Every year ‘outcome’ data are collected and published on looked after children’s educational achievements, offending, mental health, and teenage pregnancies (Department for Education 2015). The data shows that generally looked after children do not achieve the same level of academic success as their peers and are much more likely to have problems with crime, drugs and have poor mental health Most of the reported ‘outcomes’ focus on the negative and there is no information collected on how children themselves feel about their lives in care.