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Government funding given to Stirling Uni Research Team on ground-breaking care system study

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The research team, led by the University of Stirling, has been awarded £500,000 to continue potentially policy changing investigations into looked after children

The Stirling University led team has been awarded £500,000 from the Nuffield Foundation, and an anonymous philanthropic donor, to continue their pivotal research into improving the lives and outcomes for looked after children within the care system. The financial donation will allow the research team to advance to their critical secondary stage.

The objective of research is to improve both the care system, and the prospective outcomes for these individuals who are Care Experienced.

Between 2014 and 2018, in the largest UK study attempted of its nature, the research team observed the progress of all children aged five and under that became “looked-after” in Scotland between 2012 and 2013.

This amounted to a longitudinal study on a total of 1,836 children, the first phase in the research process. The study was published last year to wide praise in the academic community, and by like minded politicians and allied organisations concerned with reforming the care system.

The initial study found that a third of all children in the study were without permanent residence or placement after four years had passed. They also found that the process of adoption in Scotland for these children took more than 2 years to operationalise fully.

The educational prognosis and achievement expectations of looked after children are appallingly low, with latest figures in 2019 from the Scottish Government illustrating that Care Experienced school leaver continue to have much lower attainment levels than other school leavers not in care. Just 12% of school leavers who were in care for the full year, and 11% of those in care for part of the year attained an SCQF level 6 qualification (a Scottish Higher) or better.

Conversely, 62% of student school leavers that are not Care Experienced left with one or more qualification at SCQF level 6 or higher. Children in care also leave high school earlier than their non Care Experienced peers: in 2017/18, 44% of children whom had been receiving institutional care for a full year, and 40% of those whom were in care for part of the year left school in S4, or earlier.

Looked after children are also much more likely to leave school earlier than their non looked after peers:

These statistics produce a stark reality- children from care experienced backgrounds consistently perform drastically lesser than even children from unfortunate financially deprived areas and have fewer positive outcomes. The Scottish Government in 2019, released experimental statistics showing that achievement for the Curriculum of Excellence (CfE) levels for reading, writing, listening and talking, alongside a litany of numerical skills is much lower amongst Care Experienced children. Across the board they achieved the CfE level relevant to their stage compared with ALL pupils.

The team at Stirling University (led by social work expert Dr Helen Whincup), with their funding in tow, can now proceed to revisit these 1,836 initial children studied in their first phase.

Dr Helen Whincup, leader of the Stirling research team. Image Credit: Stirling University

The second phase of the longitudinal study is expected to run into 2024. The phase consists of the research team, comprising researchers from the University of Stirling as stated, but also researchers from Lancaster University, and Adoption and Fostering Alliance (AFA) Scotland, will use a variety of quantitative and qualitative data collection methods such as in depth questionnaires and interviews to observe how their initial child subjects are faring, at present and over the next 4 years.

Dr Whincup, of Stirling University said: “Phase 2 of this longitudinal study… will provide important information for children, families, social work practitioners and policy makers in Scotland, and internationally, which in turn will result in more effective services and better outcomes…”

Given the stark reality of Care Experienced youth outcomes, the study is a welcome and potentially ground-breaking well of knowledge to inform and steer politicians in the right direction when considering future policymaking.

The gap in attainment and positive outcomes for children in care are an institutional failure, which studies like this hope to address and level at the Scottish Government and potentially international governments to hopefully observe progress for children with Care Experience.

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