The mental health and wellbeing of youth in care and care-leavers: Development of a national collaborative research agenda

  • Devaney, John (Principal Investigator)
  • Hiller, Rachel (Co-investigator)
  • Davidson, Gavin (Co-investigator)
  • Thapar, Anita (Co-investigator)

Project Details


At present it is estimated that over 75,000 children and young people are currently in state care in the UK (McGhee et al. 2017), with a larger proportion of the child population experiencing some form of state care at some point in their lives. Children come into the care of the state for a variety of reasons and through a number of different legal routes, but there is a common thread of children having experienced a range of adversities, including maltreatment, loss, and poverty, which shape both their pre- and in-care experiences and impact on their mental health and well-being (Baldwin et al, 2019). In the UK, most young people enter care from school age or older, meaning in many cases these adverse experiences have been particularly prolonged. Adolescence is the fastest growing age-group currently entering the care system in the UK. While there are increasing concerns about the mental health and well-being of children and young people in general (Frith 2016), there are particular concerns about looked after children in particular (Bazalgette et al. 2015). Young people who are looked after have consistently been found to have much higher rates of mental health difficulties than the general youth population, with almost half of looked after children (and three quarters of those living in residential group care) meeting the criteria for a psychiatric disorder (Ford et al 2007; Meltzer et al 2003). Young people in care in the UK are five times more likely to meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder compared to their peers. There are many reasons for this, including the adversities experienced by children before coming into state care, such as abuse, neglect and exploitation, along with the experiences which some children in care experience during their time in care, which can both add to and exacerbate the difficulties they experience.

This project seeks to address the deficit in our knowledge about how we understand the mental health needs and trajectories of young people who are looked after, and how we can respond in ways which are likely to be helpful. We are seeking to bring together through this project researchers, individuals who work with this group of young people in schools and care settings, policy makers and individuals with lived experience of being looked after by the state. The project will involve a number of workpackages aiming to: work with care experienced young people to explore how mental health is defined, and the key issues we should be exploring; explore how we conceptualise the mental health needs of young people who are looked after, and how we could and should respond in ways which are likely to be effective and acceptable to young people; discuss the range of research approaches which are likely to be useful and realistic in undertaking high quality research; agreeing amongst experts from research, practice and with lived experience, the ways that research studies can measure and assess the mental health of young people and the impact of new ways of working; and to develop an approach to training and supporting non-mental health practitioners to better identify and support young people and their mental health.
Effective start/end date1/04/2031/03/21


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