This blog post is written by Alastair Lee, Children’s Services Data and Information Manager, East Sussex County Council and Chair of the Children’s Services National Performance and Information Management Group. It is part of a series published by the Rees Centre on data.
Data Tools in Local Authority Children’s Services
In every local authority there are people using data to monitor the performance of services. Ideally this supports a conversation between managers and frontline staff to help them get a better understanding of the demand on the service, the pressure on staff and the impact on children, young people and families being supported.
Producing the data in an easily understandable format, whether this is as tables, charts or dashboards does not happen at the press of a button. A lot of data wrangling is needed to get the data in a fit state to feed the reports.
Most of the data we get doesn’t come in a useable format. As a result we need to manipulate it to combine multiple reports, add a specific data column or extract specific data to meet our needs. The most basic approach to this is cutting and pasting, but as this can become very long winded and tedious we have developed tools that speed this up. Whether using advanced Excel formulae, VBA or SQL or the specific data manipulation aspects of Tableau, PowerBI, Knime, Alteryx or R the basic aim is the same. Build something that speeds up the process, reduces the tedium and as a result improves accuracy. My team have a shared folder where these tools are kept and whether used weekly, monthly or annually they are incredibly valuable.
Once we have the data we need in the right format to use we then plug it into a data visualisation tool. Currently the programme most often used for this is Excel simply because all staff have it on their PC or laptop and so it is easy to deploy widely. Also if an Excel dashboard is developed for a specific purpose (e.g. the ChAT or the Children’s Social Care Benchmarking tool that were developed by the Data to Intelligence project) I can download it, add my own data and get an output without any need to install any new software. But Excel has limitations when working with large, complex datasets and in how the data can be visualised. As a result work is being developed using more bespoke programs (e.g. Tableau, QlikView and PowerBI) and once a local authority has these installed and a way of deploying to colleagues, the same ability to share templates and visualisations is true.
When analysing data Excel is still the most common tool used, it’s what we’ve got! Some local authorities use SPSS and R is beginning to appear. This is being driven by expertise arriving with new staff who have used these programmes elsewhere. The analysis is being driven by a greater interest from service managers about longer term impact of interventions/services, the impact of changes to services and the need to forecast more accurately.
A place to share
The situation at the moment is that many local authorities have developed their own data wrangling, visualisation and analysis tools and some won’t because they don’t have the people with the skills to do so. This leads to duplication of effort between some local authorities and other not accessing tools that would help improve outcomes for children and young people. This is a waste!
To address this the Children’s Services National Performance and Information Management Group (CS-NPIMG), the South East Sector Led Improvement Programme (SESLIP), the Data to Intelligence project, Ofsted and Social Finance’s Collaborative Technology Initiative are developing a curated data tools library where these tools can be hosted, shared and co-developed. The project is in its very early days but we have good learning from the open source movement, and from the development and sharing of the ChAT which is now used by 150 LAs and the SE Data Tools library which has looked at the impact sharing a tool can have on the local authority that shares it.
One unexpected consequence of our current experience of sharing tools is that it improves data quality in the statutory returns.
This happened because it enabled us to see what the data would look like once processed by the Department for Education, previously we’d only know this once a submission was made and an error report was returned. As the tools are open source, we can all see how the data we enter is being transformed to create the output and this can reveal where errors may have arisen in the past. This has also contributed discussions about the development of standard data sets that we can all use for analysis, visualisation and research. This is all from a very limited number of shared tools; there is more work to be done to increase the number of tools for visualisation, data wrangling and analysis that will help improve outcomes for children and families in need of support.
 The ChAT is the Children’s Services Analysis Tool that was developed by a group of London LAs and Ofsted to better visualize the data that is shared between and local authority Children’s Services department and Ofsted during an inspection.
This blog post is written by Alastair Lee, Children’s Services Data and Information Manager, East Sussex County Council and Chair of the Children’s Services National Performance and Information Management Group.
Contact Alastair: Alastair.Lee@eastsussex.gov.uk
It is part of a series published by the Rees Centre on data.
Professor Judy Sebba
Children in need are half as likely to achieve strong passes in English and Maths GCSE, when controlling for SEN, low income, ethnicity, EAL and school moves, even 4 years after their CIN status has ended, according to the government review on children in need (CIN) published in June 2019.
This suggests that whatever support is being provided during the child’s designation as ‘in need’ may be making a significant contribution to their protection from harm, but is failing to facilitate adequate educational progress.
Children in need are defined in the report as those who are accessing social care support for safeguarding and/or welfare purposes, including disabled children. The review provides some challenging figures – 1.6 million (1 in 10) children ‘ever’ needed a social worker over the 6 years from 2012-18. Nearly two-thirds of these pupils live in families where there is domestic abuse, mental illness and/or alcohol/substance abuse. These young people are in 98% of schools, with 10-20% of the school population in half of all secondary schools being identified as children in need. They are twice as likely to be admitted to school at an unusual time of year, three times more likely to be persistently absent and four times more likely to be permanently excluded.
The review predictably notes that safety, stability and educational outcomes are linked: the longer a child is in need or the more significant the risk of harm, the greater the impact on education. Hence, while being in school can help to keep children safe whether at risk in or outside their home, improving outcomes also requires us to address the reasons why they needed a social worker in the first place. Children in need benefit from whole school approaches (such as the Alex Timpson Programme on Attachment and Trauma in Schools) that benefit all pupils, alongside reasonable adjustments and targeted interventions specifically for them. The children in need consulted in the review wanted adults to be sensitive but ambitious. Safety and stability must be pursued alongside, not as a precursor, to high aspirations.
In 2015, we published a report focusing mainly on ‘children looked-after’ in which we concluded from the 2013 GCSE cohort that providing (relatively stable) care protects children’s educational achievement since those in longer-term care did better than those in need and those in shorter-term care (Educational progress of looked after children in England (pdf). A further project funded by the Nuffield Foundation (and led by Prof David Berridge at Bristol University in collaboration with the Rees Centre) is currently interrogating the educational progress of children who have ‘ever’ been in care or in need.
Should the recommendations in the government’s review have gone further perhaps?
The importance of identifying this group in national data collection, school, local authority and national monitoring and inspection might improve the targeted services that they receive. Reducing the current 45-day limit on annual fixed term exclusions (a recommendation in the Timpson Exclusions review published earlier this year) will benefit children in need in particular and greater information sharing between social care and education might reduce these exclusions. Both the children in need (CIN) Review and the Exclusions Review emphasise the importance of improving the staffing and quality of Alternative Provision, but structurally this provision can only ever be a stop-gap since their size and structure limit the breadth of curriculum and specialist teaching provided.
Supporting children in need to make greater progress will undoubtedly be more likely if the recommendations made for extending Pupil Premium to all children in need (two-thirds are currently eligible) and extending Virtual School Services to this population are implemented. However these require additional resources that seem unlikely in the current climate.
Less resource intensive is ensuring some coverage on teaching children in need in both initial teaching training and professional development that might make the culture of mainstream schools more conducive to keeping these pupils in school and being more confident to address their difficulties.
DfE Children in Need (CIN) Review 2019
Timpson Review of School Exclusions May 2019
Related Rees Centre research:
Linking Care and Educational Data: The Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England. Overview Report 2015 pdf
The Educational Attainment and Progress of Children in Need and Children in Care
Alex Timpson Attachment and Trauma Programme in Schools
This blog post is written by Professor Judy Sebba, Rees Centre.
Contact Judy: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published on The Conversation on 8 August 2019.
Authors: Lars-Erik Malmberg and Andrew Martin (UNSW, Sydney)
For many students, pressure and expectation are just another part of the school experience. There is pressure to perform certain tasks, conform to uniform standards and to achieve one’s full potential. Then there are the expectations – that students will do their homework, turn up on time, and perform to the best of their ability.
Pressure is even higher when expectations are accompanied by threats of repercussions, teacher disappointment, low grades, or being reprimanded. Indeed, researchers have found that “controlling behaviour” from teachers is linked with lower student interest.
Although much research has focused on students’ motivation and the role of positive and nurturing expectations by teachers, not much is known about how students experience “pressure expectations”. Nor do we know much about how these pressure expectations happen in real-time, such as the tasks students “have to do” and the things their teachers “want them to do” – from lesson to lesson, day to day.
Our latest research has looked at just this and found that teachers’ pressure expectations can lead to students working harder – but that this increased effort comes at a cost to some students.
In our study, we asked 231 students in year five and six classes in UK schools, to report on their learning experiences once in each lesson, each day for one week. In each lesson, students reported on why they were doing the task at hand. The response options were, “I enjoyed it”, “I chose to do it”, and “I was interested in it”. These would be classed as “autonomous motivation” in that students themselves wanted to carry out the task. Students could also select “I had to do it” and “my teacher wanted me to do it”. These would be classed as “pressure expectations”.
Students also reported on how hard they were working, and how confident they felt about what they learned. Teachers reported how involved they were with each student in their class, detailing how much time they spent with each student, and how much attention they gave each student.
We found the higher the pressure expectations in a lesson, the harder students worked in subsequent lessons. But our research also found that students reported enjoying these lessons less – and felt less confident in that particular subject.
Our research also showed that if students enjoyed their tasks in the previous lesson of a particular subject, it seems teachers picked up on this and relaxed their pressure expectations in the following lesson. But this actually went on to have the effect of students then reducing their subsequent effort – demonstrating a somewhat complex and dynamic relationship between teacher pressure expectations and students’ effort, enjoyment and confidence.
Of course, realistically, some students might need a little bit of a push at times to get started, to get tasks done, or to work harder. But as our results show, too much pushing can lead students to feel demotivated or less confident. In the long run, a reasonable balance between pressure and reassurance seems desirable, otherwise exhaustion and disaffection could take over – which can eventually lead to lower academic performance.
Indeed, research shows that teachers who place less emphasis on the realities of deadlines, task completion, and expectations, and place more emphasis on students’ perspectives – so getting to know students, their values and thoughts – are able to better identify students’ needs, interests and preferences and provide meaningful learning goals by using relevant and enriched activities.
So instead of relying on controlling language, teachers should aim to provide understandable goals, frame upcoming lessons clearly and explain things concisely. Teachers would also benefit from acknowledging negative feelings in the classroom – telling students it’s okay to feel tired or nervous.
Teachers can also look to provide supportive reassurance in everyday interactions with students, using praise and encouragement to help students reach their full potential. All of which hopefully will help students to feel more supported and enable them to achieve their full potential in the classroom.
This article was first published on The Conversation on 24 May 2019.
Author: Dr Neil Harrison, Rees Centre.
After years of decline, school exclusions are on the rise again, according to official figures for the Department for Education. The Timpson review, carried out by former children’s minister Edward Timpson, also shows that children in care and other “children in need” are disproportionately likely to be excluded. This amplifies the educational disadvantages they already face.
There are around 75,000 children in care at any one time in England. Collectively, they have some of the lowest educational outcomes of any identifiable group for reasons that are complex and multidimensional. The 2016-2017 figures show they are five times more likely to have been temporarily excluded than other children. Children in need -– the wider group needing support from their local authority –- were nearly four times as likely to be temporarily excluded and twice as likely to be permanently excluded.
Among Timpson’s 30 recommendations, he argues that all teachers should be trained in attachment theory as a means of understanding and addressing behavioural issues in school. This isn’t the first time this has appeared in a government report, but it feels like momentum is building.
Indeed, there is growing evidence that one pathway to reducing exclusions is for schools to adopt an “attachment and trauma aware” approach. This has its origins in early studies emphasising how a child’s relationships with adults and feelings of safety guide their psychological development. More recent advances in neurobiology have revealed how adverse childhood experiences such as abuse and neglect impact directly on the structure of a young person’s brain.
There is now increased understanding as to how the legacy of trauma affects how young people experience the world. It particularly influences how they build trusting relationships, understand boundaries and manage their emotions. Childhood trauma can leave a long-lasting physical mark.
This is, of course, not to argue that these children are inevitably destined to be poorly behaved, nor that bad behaviour should be ignored or explained away. Attachment and trauma awareness is about action, not inaction – and about equipping people with knowledge and information to understand children who have experienced difficult circumstances.
Causes not symptoms
In 2015, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) explored the effectiveness of attachment and trauma awareness in supporting vulnerable children. Their assessment, based on research evidence from around the world, was unequivocally positive.
Inexplicably then, it has taken four years for attachment and trauma awareness to bubble onto the political agenda. Rather, the focus of government attention, strongly promoted by schools minister Nick Gibb, has been on a “zero tolerance” approach to behaviour. This manifests in strict rules, strong sanctions and even periods of isolation for minor transgressions. Crucially, given the recent rise in exclusions, it doesn’t seem to be working. This is perhaps unsurprising given its obsessive focus on symptoms rather than causes.
Between 2016 and 2018, the University of Oxford evaluated three local projects to train school staff in attachment and trauma awareness. In the main, staff and pupils reported improvements in well-being and behaviour, with most schools also showing rising attainment. Become, a charity for children in care, recently made attachment and trauma awareness its number one recommendation for how teachers can best support vulnerable children to thrive.
The Attachment Research Community –- a charity working with schools –- collects case studies of schools that have been transformed through attachment and trauma awareness. The binding theme is a focus on ensuring that all staff, from headteachers to mealtime supervisors, are equipped to support young people to regulate their own emotions. They also typically make use of innovations like “chill out” rooms, nurture groups and “time out” cards to create a calmer environment for learning.
Hope School in Liverpool, which recently shared its new Ofsted report on social media, has been specifically commended for its attachment and trauma awareness:
Based on academic research you have developed a school that is sensitive to supporting pupils with attachment and complex trauma histories [and] removed reliance on external sanctions and rewards to control behaviour.
Ofsted’s report could not be clearer in its judgement. It concludes that “behaviour in school is exemplary and pupils make outstanding progress in their learning”. Specifically, “the emphasis [had] changed to understanding the internal reasons for behaviour”. In other words, attachment and trauma awareness works – even for already successful schools.
So with the current schools minister seemingly at odds with the former children’s minister (and now Ofsted), it remains to be seen how much longer the rhetorical “crackdown” on behaviour can survive. Education secretary Damian Hinds has accepted all 30 of Timpson’s recommendations on behalf of the government, albeit without firm commitments around teacher training. But, hopefully, attachment and trauma awareness is an idea whose time is finally coming.
Education plays a critical role in the lives of refugee young people. I know this from my time as an advocate for young people in care, before I became a researcher. Refugee young people told me that a good education was the key to their future success and many had promised family members they would earn higher degrees while in England. School was a place they could be just like every other young person their age, leaving behind their anxieties about difficult relationships with social services, unresolved immigration status and uncertain futures. After a number of years on the frontline with refugee young people (and some research experience) I thought I had a sense of how they were doing. However I gained new insights about their experiences when I analysed national data recorded by the Department of Education (as part of a larger Nuffield funded project on the educational outcomes of children in care).
What do we know from information collected by the DfE?
Firstly, I was surprised to find that DfE only had information on 193 unaccompanied refugee children in care who were entered for GCSE exams (or equivalent) in 2013 – given that there were 1440 unaccompanied refugee children in care over the age of 16 at the time.
This discrepancy is probably explained by two key facts:
- Many refugee young people are not in a position to take GCSEs, given language barriers, the need to adapt to the education system and psycho-social difficulties they might face.
- Many refugee young people are not assigned a Unique Pupil Identifier so they don’t appear in DfE data. This is because UPNs are usually assigned when children enter school. Because refugee young people often arrive in their late teens and without good English, they are often enrolled in college where they can learn English and take other basic courses.
How does the performance of refugee children compare to other young people?
Secondly, I wasn’t sure how the performance of refugee children might compare to other young people also taking GCSEs. The data showed that unaccompanied refugee young people in care scored more points at GCSEs (232 points on average) than children in care (200) or young people in social need (181), but far fewer than children in the general population (340). The pattern for attendance was similar. Refugee young people weren’t doing too badly then, given their circumstances, but they still had some catching up to do.
What do we know about refugee children with special educational needs?
Thirdly, it was interesting to find that refugee young people who had special educational needs had similar GCSE scores to young people who didn’t have special educational needs. This might mean that refugee young people who have special educational needs are receiving the support they need (this is not the case for British children with special educational needs who lag far behind their peers who don’t). Curiously, refugee children for whom DfE had no data on special educational needs had very low GCSE scores. I was also disappointed to find that virtually no research has been done on the topic, so we know very little about how refugee children are assessed for special educational needs and whether this is done well or not. This is something I am hoping to follow up in a future research project.
Numbers only tell a fraction of the story…
Finally, while it was very interesting to look at the official data held on these children, as a practitioner I couldn’t help but feel these numbers only tell us a fraction of the story. The data I analysed told me how a group of refugee young people were performing at GCSE, as well as some of the factors that predict how well they perform. But there are many more refugee young people whose educational performance we (and DfE) don’t know about and so many other factors we need to investigate to help us understand what strategies we can put in place to support their success.
This blog is based on the findings from the following study:
O’Higgins, A. (2019). Analysis of care and education pathways of refugee and asylum‐seeking children in care in England: Implications for social work. International Journal of Social Welfare, 28(1), 53-62.
Please email me for a copy of the paper if you are unable to access it. A summary of the key messages (pdf) is available.
This blog is written by Dr Aoife O’Higgins who completed her doctorate at the Rees Centre and is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Magdalen College and the Department of Experimental Psychology. email@example.com
It is part of a series for the month of May on unaccompanied migrant young people in care.
Education is often one of the top priorities for those young people who arrive to England on their own from another country. Many have been through difficult journeys and find themselves separated from family, friends, and their home country, but we know that education provides a place for stability, for aspirations, and to make new friends.
The young people have aspirations to learn English to a high standard, finish college courses, and go to university. They have wide-ranging job aspirations from pilots to photographers. The other week, one 16-year old asylum-seeking boy explained,
“I want to be a nurse […] I have a grandmother, and when I was with her, she so nice. I was helpful to her. She’s very old. That is why I like older people, to help. I like that to do. […] I don’t want to learn only to get a job and get the money. [I want to learn] especially for my mind, for changing my experience.”
What educational provision is currently offered?
So what educational provision is offered to unaccompanied migrant young people in England? We’ve written a new paper to be released in the Oxford Review of Education that explores this topic based on a research project funded by the OUP John Fell Fund. The statistics show us surprisingly little. We find that only half of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who have been in care for 12 or more months have a unique pupil number (tracking their educational provision in state funded schools). This may be because many of them go straight to English language programmes in colleges at the ages of 15-17 or be because they go to bespoke provision designed for unaccompanied migrant young people. No matter the reason, it means that it is difficult to understand what provision they do receive and how that provision meets their needs. In order to improve resource sharing, the National Association of Virtual School Heads is planning to host a repository of different educational projects for this population. Understanding educational provision serves as a basis for evaluation and for understanding outcomes.
What do these young people think about their education and aspirations?
Dr Ellie Ott is currently exploring this topic as part of a TORCH Humanities Knowledge Exchange Fellowship. The Fellowship is a partnership with the Oxfordshire Orientation Programme run by Key 2 and with the National Association of Virtual School Heads to share knowledge and share the voices of young people themselves. Although the Fellowship is on-going, the young people’s dedication towards learning and their aspirations for their future careers are already impressive.
This post is written by Dr Ellie Ott, Research Fellow at the Rees Centre and Dr Aoife O’Higgins, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Magdalen College and the Department of Experimental Psychology who completed her doctorate at the Rees Centre. It is part of a series for the month of May on unaccompanied migrant young people in care.
Related Rees Centre resources
Research: Educational provision
Research: Concepts of care
“Their home was the Jungle and their family was their peers.”
(Olivia, lawyer for a charity)
Guest post by Dr Sarah Crafter (Open University) and Dr. Rachel Rosen (University College London).
In 2015, it was clear from several newspaper reports that there were a significant number of separated child migrants travelling alone or without kin, living in appalling conditions in the Calais refugee camp. Their situation was desperate but it was suggested in one television report that at least they had each other. Although the children’s care of each other has been noted by some adult stakeholders such as the filmmaker Sue Clayton (2019) and the humanitarian volunteer Liz Clegg (Crafter & Rosen, forthcoming), there has been a significant gap in the research concerning separated child migrants care for, and by, each other.
This raised a range of questions in our minds: What are separated child migrants’ experiences of care and caring for others? How do the professionals who encounter separated child migrants when they have arrived in the UK, make sense of care relationships and caring practices? How do various economic, social and political factors shape the care priorities of relevant stakeholders?
How do separated child migrants care for each other?
We looked at the way in which separated children might care for each other in our recently published article (open access). The data for this paper comes from a small pilot study where we talked to a variety of frontline staff and other professionals who encounter separated child migrants in their work. We wanted to find out more about their work with separated child migrants, how they thought about care and what they thought about children caring for each other. The adult stakeholders in our study recognised the importance of children’s care of each other, but they found it hard to articulate and we suggest this might be because the care of children by adults dominates broader views on childhood. Instead, children’s care of each other was framed as something that happens because of extraordinary and untenable circumstances. As Steph (a state social worker) explained:
“I’ve also noticed somehow they create travelling buddies…They form a relationship, even when they are…they’re travelling in the truck from Calais, it’s the two of them.”
Rose (a state social worker) commented: “They do [care for each other], they have to,”. In these commentaries, care of each other, for separated child migrants is borne out of a desperate necessity.
Our study found that policy and practice takes little heed of these potentially vital relationships despite recognising how important children’s caring of each other might be. For example, when the Calais refugee camp was dismantled and children were brought in buses to the Home Office in the UK, no attempt was made to take children’s friendships and care relationships into account when deciding what part of the country they would be placed. Katie (a staff member at an advocacy organisation) told us how this had particularly devastating effects on the girls brought into the UK. She described the scene:
“They were all being taken apart, literally being dragged apart, screaming, holding hands with their friends saying, I’m never going to see you again. Because they will have developed really, really close bonds with those girls.”
Our pilot project, on which this paper is based, provided the basis for our wider explorations into the care relationships and care practices that surround separated child migrants. Little is known about how separated child migrants care for each other as they navigate contradictory, complex, and changeable immigration and welfare systems. Nor do we know how separated children’s care for each other is understood and treated by relevant adult stakeholders, including social workers, foster carers, educators, youth workers, religious leaders, legal professionals, and policy makers.
We have just begun a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council to explore these questions in depth. This is a collaborative project co-led by Dr. Sarah Crafter (The Open University) and Dr Rachel Rosen (UCL), alongside academic colleagues from UCL (Dr. Elaine Chase), University of Liverpool (Professor Helen Stalford), University of Northampton (Dr. Evangelia Prokopiou), University of Oxford (Dr. Ellie Ott) and University of Bedfordshire (Professor Ravi Kohl). Kamena Dorling is a consultant providing expert advice in her capacity of Head of Policy and Law at Coram’s Children’s Legal Centre.
We aim to shape understandings of separated child migrants’ care experiences and improve their treatment. We hope to enhance the practices of adult stakeholders who care for and about separated child migrants by providing opportunities to identify and develop good practice in the care of separated migrant children. Our project will provide robust evidence about separated children’s care relationships and care practices, and the implications of how these are currently understood and treated, in order to shape policy debate and development.
Dr Sarah Crafter, Open University
Dr Rachel Rosen, University College London
Clayton, S. (2019). Narrating the young migrant journey: Themes of self-representation. In S.Clayton, A.Gupta, & K.Willis (Eds.), Unaccompanied young migrants: Identity, care and justice (pp. 115133). Bristol: Policy Press.
Crafter, S. & Rosen, R. (forthcoming). Care in a refugee camp: A case study of a humanitarian volunteer in Calais. In E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (ed.) Hospitality and Hostility in a Moving World. UCL Open Press.
Rosen, R., Crafter, S., & Meetoo, V. (online first). An absent presence: Separated child migrants’ caring practices and the fortified neoliberal state. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Where should you live? This is a major question that everyone faces. It is a particularly salient question that social workers face when they have a young person arrive in their local authority from another country, separated from any primary caregiver. Should we place this unaccompanied asylum-seeking child in family foster care, a residential home, semi-independent living, or other types of accommodation? Part of this decision will be based on practicalities of what places are available. Ideally it would be driven by what is best for the outcomes of these young people.
Internationally, there has been a big push into deinstitutionalisation of children in care. This makes intuitive sense. People want stability in care and to have trusted adults. Such ideas fit with attachment theory and with data that finds better outcomes for young people in family foster care than in residential care. But, individual cases and contexts are more complex. For unaccompanied and separated children in humanitarian crises in low- and middle-income countries, an evidence synthesis found from the limited evidence that the outcomes for children in foster care were generally, but not consistently, positive – and the outcomes for children living in residential care were mixed, but positive outcomes for children in residential care were strongly linked to better standards in care. For children in high-income countries, many arrive as teenagers aged 14-17 and will have to shortly transition to adulthood. They may have strong bonds with other young people who have travelled with them and may be used to a level of independence. Many also have strong bonds to family who they have been separated from, and they will also have to integrate into a new society and new ways of living in ether foster family or residential homes.
What does the evidence say about the impact of placement type on (mental and physical health) as well as educational outcomes?
Dr Aoife O’Higgins, Dr Michael Shea, and I carried out a systematic review where we aimed to look at the impact of placement type on (mental and physical) health and educational outcomes of unaccompanied refugee minors. This two page summary of the research outlines the findings while the full paper is free online from Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. We screened 3,877 studies and included 9 studies in our review. Some of these young people arrived as resettled refugees without an adult family member while others arrived on their own seeking asylum. Our exploratory meta-analysis found that unaccompanied refugee minors in family foster care had overall better mental health when compared with those in other types of accommodation (p=0.027). This may be because family foster care improves mental health or because those with better mental health are more likely to be placed in family foster care.
No matter the decision on where to live, the young people’s best interests should be at the heart of the decision. Where we live can affect our wellbeing, health, and future.
This blog is written by Dr Ellie Ott, Research Fellow at the Rees Centre. It is part of a series for the month of May on unaccompanied migrant young people in care.
Further information on the Rees Centre’s work in this area.
Neil Harrison and Julie Selwyn
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: