We have primarily focused in the past on the education of children within the social care system – and mainly those who are being fostered. We will now be extending this work to encompass adopted children, those leaving care and care-experienced adults.
Two new care leaver projects…
We’ve recently announced two new collaborative projects for the Rees Centre, laying out our future research agenda.
The first is being led by Dr Eran Melkman and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, focusing on the pathways that care leavers use when accessing the labour market. We will be using a mixed methods approach, combining narratives from professionals and young people (this strand is being led by the University of York) with administrative datasets held by the Office for National Statistics.
These data will enable us to explore what care leavers do after leaving school and up to the age of 21, whether this is further education, training/apprenticeships, higher education, work or something else. We will be able to compare their outcomes with other young people, including those from disadvantaged groups, such as those who received free school meals when they were in school. We hope this will give us new insights about how to improve these outcomes in the future, for example, by looking at key decision points in a young person’s life and what guidance or support might be provided.
The second new project is being funded by the Unite Foundation and is being led by Professor Jacqueline Stevenson at Sheffield Hallam University. The overall focus of the project is on the higher education outcomes for care-experienced students and students who are estranged from their families.
The Rees Centre’s element of this project, led by Dr Neil Harrison, is to analyse data on graduate employment for care-experienced students using a large-scale dataset provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. This will enable us to explore the career paths that care-experienced graduates choose and whether they are more or less likely to secure high-skilled work after higher education than other similarly-qualified graduates. Again, this will help us to understand what additional support services might be needed.
…and one on the move!
Bright Spots has moved to the Rees Centre with the appointment of Professor Julie Selwyn. The project is delivered through a collaboration with Coram Voice (a children’s rights charity). This year the online surveys are being used in 30 local authorities to evaluate the subjective well-being of children in care (aged 4 to 18 years) and care experienced adults (aged 18 to 25 years). Subjective well-being is about feeling good and functioning well. The surveys use indicators to examine whether children and young people are flourishing. A new evaluation will begin in 2019 to consider the impact of Bright Spots in local authorities that have taken part. The evaluation is being funded by the Hadley Trust.
More information on Bright Spots see https://coramvoice.org.uk/brightspots.
Moving into adoption research
Julie’s arrival means the Rees Centre will be significantly extending its engagement in adoption research, specifically focused around two significant national projects.
Adoption concerns only a small proportion of children who are unable to safely return to their families, but they are some of the most vulnerable children in society. Recent reforms to the adoption system have seen improvements with delays reducing, early permanence approaches becoming more mainstream, and the Adoption Support Fund developed to meet children’s therapeutic needs. Nevertheless, the adoption system has struggled to respond to changes in demand. The regionalisation reforms set out by the Department for Education intends to create approximately 30 Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs) who will provide adoption services rather than the 152 local authorities who each provided adoption services in the past. The expectation is that larger organisations should be able to pool resources and share best practice resulting in: targeted and efficient recruitment of adopters; speedier matching of children with a larger more diverse pool of adopters; and an improved range of adoption support services.
The objectives of the evaluation, being delivered by Julie Selwyn in partnership with Ecorys UK, are to understand how the RAAs have been created and how they are tackling various challenges such as data sharing, culture change within organisations and changes to staff working practices. The evaluation will also measure the impact of the RAAs on four key areas: speed of matching with adopters, adopter recruitment, adoption support and efficiencies and cost savings.
The second project, funded by the Department for Education, is intending to improve the quality of assessments of children and prospective adopters. The evaluation, led by Julie Selwyn, is examining the impact of new mental health training for professionals and the introduction of a standardised mental health assessment tool (DAWBA) completed by foster carers and teachers on children with an adoption plan. In addition, the preparation groups for adoptive parents will be evaluated in the newly created regional adoption agency – Adoption Central England.
We welcome your comments and feedback on our work.
Dr Neil Harrison, Senior Researcher and Deputy Director of the Rees Centre:
Julie Selwyn, Professor of Education and Adoption at the Rees Centre: