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Public attitudes to care experienced young people

Authors: Diana Bardsley, Ian Montagu and Susan Reid

The Life Changes Trust is proud to have funded Scotland’s first major survey on public attitudes towards people with experience of care. While care experienced young people have increasingly occupied a steady place in the public eye since the 2016 announcement of the Independent Review of Care, we have never had a baseline against which to measure progress in shifting attitudes and perceptions towards care experienced young people – until now.

The results of this study are timely and important, as they provide not only a glimpse into people’s assumptions and understandings of being in care, but also provide the first rigorous estimate of what percentage of people in Scotland identify as having been ‘in care’.

Findings of this survey suggest there is cause for optimism; most people in Scotland would be happy for their child to be friends with a child in care, to work alongside someone with care experience, or for a relative to marry someone who has experience of care.

However, there is still a significant minority within our society that hold beliefs and attitudes that could easily translate into prejudice and discrimination. Nearly one in 10 people said they would be unhappy if their child befriended a child in foster or residential care. While it sounds like a small number, we must remember that in a classroom of 20 students, that means two families that may be actively discriminating against a child.

The results of this survey mark the beginning of a journey. Like all good research, much of the data raises more questions than answers. This survey highlights how much more work there is to do before we can truly understand the cause of attitudes towards care experienced young people in Scotland.

One of the main obstacles towards understanding what is at the root of attitudes may be the way in which outcomes are measured and reported on, and the assumption that negative outcomes are caused by care. There is still a lack of rigorous studies examining the causes of these negative outcomes.

There is also more work to do before we can determine to what extent negative responses to this survey reflect a belief based on knowledge about the subject instead of just attitudes about care experienced young people. In this survey, for example, people who work with children and young people in care were more likely to believe that children in care are worse behaved than other children. This may be reflective of prejudice, but this may also reflect an understanding of trauma, as acting out and poor behaviour can be a response to a traumatic event. Those who work with care experienced young people may therefore be responding from a place of understanding and care, not a place of prejudice. Determining whether these attitudes are based on belief or perceived knowledge is a complex task, and one that is far from complete at the end of this survey.