Children who enter the care system have suffered abuse and/or neglect, and because of that, they are more likely to have a range of complex needs. Carers (either being foster, kinship, birth or adoptive parents) might struggle caring for these children if they are not appropriately and timely supported. This might lead to placement disruption and instability, and in turn affect the wellbeing of the children (as well as the carers themselves). Article 18.2 in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that ‘States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children’. This is particularly relevant in the case of young people in care. In addition, as young people age out of care, they experience a high risk of social exclusion, so supports become very significant at that time of their lives.
The Care Pathways and Outcomes Study is a longitudinal study following 374 children who were in care and under five years old on 31/3/2000 in Northern Ireland. We followed where the young people ended up living, whether they returned to their birth parents, went into kinship or non-relative foster care, or were adopted. In 2009/2010, we interviewed 77 of the children, then aged 9-14, and/or their current caregivers; and we are now interviewing them aged 18 to 23 and their parents or long-term carers. Data collection is ongoing, and so over 50 young people and/or their parents or carers have taken part in the study. In this presentation, we will focus on the young people’s and their carers’ perceived need for supports and whether these were satisfied (during their childhood/adolescence) and are being satisfied (in their early adulthood) or not. We will draw on the qualitative interviews with parents/or carers and the children in 2009 and with the young people in this current phase (2018-2019). We will compare the provision of supports in each type of placement. We will also explore to what extent the quality and level of service provision influenced the outcome of any placements that eventually disrupted. So far, for nine of the young people who have taken part in this phase of the study, their long-term placement disrupted or broke down. The carers and young people that experienced this felt they were not appropriately supported before the disruption occurred, and in some cases, they believed it could have been prevented. In addition, we will also look at the provision of supports for young people leaving care. We will explore the implications for practice from a social justice perspective.