When looked-after children grow up

This research, undertaken by researchers at University College London, used data made available via the Office for National Statistics (ONS)Secure Research Service (SRS), which is being expanded and improved with ADR UK funding.

What happens to looked-after children after they’ve grown up? A study undertaken by UCL researchers Dr Emily T Murray, Dr Rebecca Lacey, Professor Amanda Sacker, and Professor Barbara Maughan of King’s College London, used the ONS Longitudinal Study to build a comprehensive picture of the health and social functioning of adults who had been looked after in childhood, comparing their outcomes to other adults in the population. Although the adverse consequences of being looked after as a child are well recognised, as are the outcomes for children as they negotiate leaving care, evidence on outcomes beyond the early adult years is very limited.

In the first piece of research, the team looked at more than 350,000 people to see if they had been in care at any point between 1971 and 2001 (using Census data) and then tracked up to the end of 2013 to see if and how they had died.

In the second, they focused on the health of children who had been in care over the same period and analysed their health up to 30 years later. Additional analysis was conducted to see if there were any differences between care settings.

Key findings Adults in England and Wales who grew up in any type of care setting between 1971 and 2001 had worse self-rated health and were more likely to die prematurely, decades after they had been in care.

With up to 42 years of follow-up, premature death was 70% more likely overall in adults who had spent time in care, versus those who had not, as children.

Alarmingly, the overall elevated risk of death in adults who had been in care increased over time, from 40% in the 1971 cohort to a staggering 360% in the 2001 cohort.

Adults who had been in residential care were between three and four times more likely than those who had lived with their parents to report their health as ‘not good’ compared to ‘good’.

Research impact

Published in May and July 2020, this research has already started to have an impact. The Observer newspaper published an exclusive article to coincide with the publication. The researchers were also contacted by UK fostering and adoption charity Home for Good, who run the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Adoption and Permanence.

The findings were circulated to children's services by three Borough Shared Fostering and Adoption Services, including Hammersmith and Fulham, who said, " [The work] is coming at a good time aswe are trying to find research about outcomes for children in long-term care".

The research outcomes were showcased across multiple websites and cited in CASPAR, the NSPCC's safeguarding child protection email newsletter.

Read the first (May 2020) and second (July 2020) publications.

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