Dissertation: Young People Leaving Care – 10,000 words



CHAPTER                                                                                   PAGE


Acknowledgement                                                                     3


Introduction                                                                                4-5


Background                                                                                6


Aims and Objectives                                                                  7


Literature Review                                                                       8-27         


Methodology                                                                              28-32                                                               


Design of the Instrument                                                          33-36


Sample                                                                                       37-40                                                                               


Reliability and Validity                                                              41-42  


Pilot Study                                                                                  43-46                                                                           


Data Analysis                                                                             47


Ethical Issues                                                                            48-49                                                    


Reflective Account                                                                    50-52


References                                                                                 53-57


Appendix/Definition of Key Terminologies                             58-60










I would like to thank my personal tutor Winfield Belgrave for giving me guidance and advice when I needed it, my only regret is that I did not use my tutors support when I really needed it during my first placement. I would also like to thank Chandi Patel and Val Sylvester for providing additional support/guidance when Winfield was not available.  The past three years at Birmingham City University have been like a rollercoaster ride, with plenty of ups and downs, but I have really enjoyed my time here and I have made some really good friends, some of whom I intend to keep in touch with.


I would also like to mention my dear friend Ketty, who sadly pasted away early this year; I will always remember her beautiful radiant smile and positive attitude towards life, no matter how bad things were she kept on going. You have gone my dear friend, but you will not be forgotten.  I would also like to mention my family, who kept on making jokes about my studying at a later age, in a funny sort of way it gave me the encouragement to continue and prove them wrong.











In order to give my readers a clear/distinct understanding, I find it important to define some key terminologies that I will use throughout this research proposal.  This may found in appendix 1.


In recent years there has been proliferating concerns about the plight of young people leaving care.  We know that young people who are looked after (commonly referred to as Looked After Children – LAC) by local authorities are already disadvantaged.  Most often, they have encountered a troubled background involving family dilemmas and abuse.  And regardless of service providers’ best intentions, young people looked after by local authorities tend to experience additional disruptions, such as continuous moves/change of placements for one reason or another; and because of this instability and unreliability of the care provided for young people it often results in poor education, training and employment opportunities.


On this note, it is interesting to find that it has been a common view shared by, Barn, R., Andrew, L., and Montovani, N. (2005) Dumaret, A-C., Coppel-Batsch, M., and Courand, S. (1997) and Jackson, S. (2002), that young people who are in placements which are secure and providing exemplary calibre of care are anticipated to succeed educationally, in employment and manage independently when they leave care, than young people who have experienced further movements and disruption during their time in care.

For most young people today their journey to adulthood often extends into their mid twenties.  It is a journey from restricted to full citizen, from childhood to status characterised by dependency to an adult status derived in part on choices, such as becoming a student, employee, householder, partner or parent.  However, the journey to adulthood for many care leavers is shorter, steeper and more hazardous, (adapted from Stein, M. 2005).  More young people are leaving care today between the ages of 16 – 18 to live independently in the community.  Although some young people who left care have managed to accomplish independence and embark on positive and fulfilling lives, it is constantly replicated in the media that unemployment is prominent among young people who have left care, so too many are over-represented in the prison population and among the homeless.


My placement was based at a homeless resettlement project which catered for the needs of young people.  This project provides supported housing for young people who have just left care or who have been made homeless by running away from home or by being thrown out of the family home for various different reasons.  Most of these young people have little or no qualifications and are unemployed, some have been unable to find work because they lack basic skills or they have no previous work experience, some were also unable to read or write.  Other residents on the project are not aware of their fellow resident’s illiteracy, this is to avoid taunting and name calling.




There appears to be a number of researches already carried out – looking at young peoples’ experience of leaving the care of local authorities.  My aim in this section of my study is to highlight/discuss some key findings from previous researches.  I will be looking at young people leaving care not just in England, but also in other countries such as Scotland, Ireland, United States, Australia and Germany.  In order to present this literate review in logical order, I will be using sub-headings.


“The quality of preparation for leaving care and the care of subsequently provided, may profoundly affect the rest of a young person’s life.”  (HMSO 1989)


This is a profound statement, which encapsulates the state’s responsibility in not only looking after, but also preparing children and young people to be well suited individuals in society.  The Government assumes the duty and power to ensure and promote the welfare of children within their care.








Aims and Objectives


To put forward young peoples perspectives about leaving care and start living independently, with emphasis on the lack of support available for young people when things go wrong, such as a young  person being unable to live independently without support, and the problems faced by young people when they try to get help.


To make certain that social services get it right, the foremost consideration must be the availability of appropriate/adequate resources.  In addition, those providing services and employing the resources, (for example, foster carers and residential care workers) must have the knowledge and skills required to carry out their role.  Thus, ongoing training is essential.


One would agree that young people in the care of local authority have the right to adequate and appropriate preparation for leaving care and the social services departments have the lead role in ensuring that this preparation is projected to meet young people’s needs.  In doing so local authorities must also ensure that children/young people are safeguarded against further abuse, such as racism, heterosexism and stereotypes, which could have implications on their self-esteem.






Literature Review


I will commence the literature review by looking at what the law states in relation to childcare, which gives the basis for working with all children and young people in need.  I will then move onto look at why young people enter care in the first place and the transition they make from care to independence.  The argument will be developed from sociological and psychological perspectives.


The Law

The introduction of the Children Act 1989, which reformed the law relating to children, brought about Powers and Duties for Local Authorities.  Emphasis was placed on local authorities to ensure that the welfare of all children in their area is considered paramount, irrespective of whether they are in need.  Provision was made under the Act to ensure the needs of children are being met. Examples of such duties and powers are listed as follows:



Local Authorities must:-


1)   Take reasonable steps to ensure the provision of services to prevent children suffering ill-treatment or neglect;

2)   Publish information about its services and take reasonable steps to ensure that those who might benefit from services receive the relevant information.


Local Authorities can:-

1)       Provide accommodation for children under the age of sixteen, with their parent’s agreement, if it will safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.


With regards to ‘after care’, the Children Act (1989) sought to improve upon the services that already existed, as one of the main criticism pre 1989 was that the care system did not do enough for the young people it ‘parented’.  Consequently, in an attempt to amend the situation, the Children Act (1989) appointed a series of duties on local authorities to provide after care.  Local authorities were also given powers to support young people in the period immediately after they left care, up until the age of 21 and beyond that in some circumstances.


The guidance states that:


“The successful re-integration of a young person with his family… or the establishment of the ability in the young person to become self-supporting…. Is the culmination of young person’s experiences in being cared for…. It is of vital importance that young people are prepared properly for the step to independence and given access to support afterwards.  (Children Act 1989) Vol.3, paragraphs 9.3 – 9.4)


Under Section 24 of the above-mentioned Act, local authorities have a duty to advise and assist and befriend young people when they cease to be looked after by them.  Assistance may be in the form of providing goods, assistance in kind or cash.


More recently the Children (Leaving Care) Act (2000) was implemented.  This Act amends the leaving care provisions contained in Section 24 of the Children Act (1989).  It imposes a duty upon local authorities to prepare 16-17 year olds leaving care and to support them up until the age of 21.


The Act states that:


  • Each eligible child, that is a 16-17 year old who has remained in care for a period of at last three months, will have an assessment of their current and future needs, leading to the preparation of a pathway plan.


  • A personal advisor will be appointed to support the child leaving care.


There is a duty to safeguard and promote his/her welfare by maintaining him/her and providing him/her with suitable accommodation.  Local authority’s duties continue to the age of 21, except that training needs may continue to the age of 24.


Therefore, if a child/young person is accommodated or in the care of local authority, they are entitled to an appropriate and adequate standard of care and aftercare.  This includes preparation required for independence.  Here the term ‘independence’ is used not only to speak about the young person being completely emancipated from local authority care, but also the transition period when he/she initially move out of social service accommodation and the support he/she will require.


Regardless of the fact that the law gives local authority the legal framework for working with children and young people in need, care leavers receive inadequate assistance in reality.  Biehal, N. and Wade, J. (1996) in their article “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Care Leavers, Families and Change”, confer the fact that as human beings there are key transitions that each of us will make during our lives.  For example, leaving school and moving onto further education, joining the labour market, leaving home to set up an independent household or live with friends, getting married or cohabiting and becoming parents.


Biehal and Wade noted that for young people who experienced living in the care of local authority, the transition of leaving care at 16-18 may have a profound effect on the way they will manage future transitions on other aspects of their lives.  Therefore it is of vital importance that acre providers ensure that the preparation young people receive for independence adequately meet their needs.


The shortcomings care leavers encounter, compared with other young people who leave their own families to independence, is that they have no choice in making the transition to independence, it is compulsory rather than voluntary and often they are merely not ready to move out and live independently.  It is interesting to find Garnett, L. (1992) shared this view, in implying that because of departmental policies young people are discharged from local authority, regardless of how willing or prepared they are.


This notion is further supported by Marsh, P. (1997), in saying “young people could be subject to policies which meant they had to move on at a set age irrespective of circumstance.  Ten years on and the same could be said today.





Children enter care at a point of crisis.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines crisis as:

“A time of intense/severe difficulty or danger.”  (Oxford Dictionary,254:2003)


As human beings we all experience crisis in one form or another at some point in our lives.  A wealth of knowledge has developed in the form of crisis theory; and there are numerous principles/assumptions that underpin the theory.


Caplan, G. (1964) defines crisis experience as having identifiable beginnings and ends and is often triggered by some specific event.  He identified specific life events as having potential for crisis, such as pregnancy, loss and bereavement etc.


A basic principle of crisis theory is that crises are linked to some events in the lives of individuals, with the person seeing the event as the last straw.  Quite often children enter care due to relationship breakdown between parents, which has been accelerated by a diminutive incident, at which point parents become unable to cope with their children’.


Principle to any crisis, is the idea that coping or personal problem solving has failed.  This is arguably, personally constructed, as to what constitutes a problem for one person may not for another.


Whist some children enter care due to relationship breakdown between parents; there is a myriad of other crisis points at which others enter.  For example, some have adverse emotional and behavioural problems which their parents are unable to cope with (thus causing relationship breakdown between parent and child); others have experienced abuse of one form or another, i.e. sexual, physical, emotional or neglect.  Consequently, they are removed from their parents/families in an effort to ensure their safety and well-being.  Also, some children have experienced loss of parent/s; some parents may also be unable to adequately care for their children due to physical/mental health or illicit drug problems.


Inevitably, there will be some psychological implications for any person who has experienced trauma or crisis.  Whilst crisis theorists suggest that crises are linked to particular circumstances/events, for example relationship breakdown, Gross, R. (1992) disputes their view.  He insinuates that the breakdown of a relationship is a process rather than an event, which takes place over a period of time.  Therefore relationship breakdown does not take place overnight, and the emotional consequence of this for children can be quite profound.




The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘need’ as:


‘A state of great difficulty that requires help or relief.’


Therefore it is safe to say that as human beings, we all have needs that require help at different points in our lives.  Our needs change as we grow.  Maslow, A. (1970) theorises that human beings can only develop to self-actualisation through the satisfaction of what he characterised as a ‘hierachy of needs’, which is discussed as:


Physiological needs- this is according to Maslow, is the most dominant need of each individual.  The need for food and sleep to sustain and strengthen them.  Without these, Maslow states that we could not function properly.  Hence, physiological needs are the foundation on which we build the following needs.


Safety needs-  Maslow suggests that these represent the importance of security, protection, stability, freedom of fear and anxiety and the need for structure limits.  This is a basic need that shold be met within the confines of the family


Love and belonging needs- Maslow suggests that this refers to the need for family and friends, the company of others and the perception we have of ourselves.  He added that every human being wants/needs to be ‘liked’.

Self-actualisation needs- Maslow puts this at the top of his hierachal pyramid and refers to it as a feeling of restlessness.  In spite of all the other needs being met, a person can only be fulfilled once they are realising their full potential in whatever area means the most to them; for example, parenting and academia etc.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a framework, which is useful for exploring how humans develop.


The onus is on parents as primary socialisers to enable their children to develop physically and emotionally, ensuring that all their needs are met as far as possible.  This should in turn provide children with good grounding, which will enable them to fulfill their potentials/self-actualisation.


Sergeant, G. (1971) compliments Maslow’s view that the family has paramount responsibility in meeting the needs of children.  In that, he describes the function of the family to:

“Serve as the primary agency of socialization, i.e. it provides the earliest and most impressive education for the young, introducing children to the values and norms of behaviour; which are thought to be appropriate by the parents, which in turn will normally be related to the social class to which parents belong or even the cultural characteristics of the social class to which the parents belong.”


Unfortunately for some children/young people their families become dysfunctional and are not able to meet the above needs.  In reality, many children who become known to social services, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or culture, have had traumatic early years experience.  Some have been so traumatic that emotional and/or abnormal behaviours are manifested.  In numerous cases, their own parents were also known to social services.  One could therefore argue that a cycle of deprivation exists from generation to generation.


During my course of study on the Social Work Degree at Birmingham City University (formerly known as University of Central England) I came across a model which is valuable in discussing how to meet children’s needs holistically.  The acronym “SPLICES” is used to describe this model, which is; Spiritual; Physical; Language; Intellectual; Cultural; Emotional; and Social needs.


It was interesting for me to realise that SPLICES is closely linked to Maslow’s hierachy of need and is further incorporated in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, which underpins the Framework of Assessment for Children in Need; exploring children’s needs under three main domains, namely: family and environmental needs, developmental needs and parenting capacity, (adapted from Horwath, J. (2001) in The Childs World).


The discussion around SPLICES is that all needs are equally important as a foundation on which to build the whole person.  A disparagement of SPLICES however, is that it does not amplify to what degree each need must be met in order to develop ones self or prioritise in order of importance.  For example one person may prioritise cultural needs, another may prioritise physical needs, whilst another person may regard each as equally important and another may disregard one or more of the needs.


For many children who come under the auspice of local authority, their needs were never adequately met.  Many do not know what it means to be loved, protected, feel secure or have a stable environment.  Consequently, some have low self-esteem which manifest in them having no self-respect, respect for others or anything.  Therefore, carers such as foster carers and residential workers etc, have a difficult task to unravel these issues and establish positive change for these children/young people.  It would be ideal for these issues to be addressed before embarking on preparation for independent living.  I reality this is not possible, workers have to deal with young people’s emotional/behavioral problems whilst also teaching survival skills.  This can be problematic for the children/young people as service users’ and the local authority as service providers.





According to Stein, M and Dixon, J. (2006), research studies carried out in the UK over the past three decades suggest that many young people leaving care are not well served by the care system and quoted this statement from a person (aged 16) who left care to live on her own for the first time:

“From the age of seven I always dreamed of being 16 and leaving care…. I never thought it would be like this”.


Wade, J. (1997) argued that the main reasons for leaving care includes placement breakdown and the assumptions by carers that they should move on having reached 16 or 17 years of age.  Whereas the current trend for young people in the general population is for delayed household formation, care leavers have to accelerated transitions and thus shoulder adult responsibilities at a much earlier age than other young people in the same age group.


Similarly, Stein and Dixon implied that a majority of these young people move to independent living at just 16 or 17 years of age, whereas most of their peers remain at home well into their twenties, and for many of these young people leaving care is a final event, there is no option to return or go back to how things were in times of difficulty.


Stein and Dixon also noted that these young people often have to cope with major status changes in their lives at the time of leaving care: leaving foster care of their children’s home and setting up a new home of their own, and for some young people starting a new family as well; leaving school and finding there way into further education, training or employment or coping with unemployment.  Lister, R. (1998) compares the above arguments in saying ‘young people’s journey from restricted to full citizenship is both accelerated and compressed’.

Beck, U. (1992) earlier indicated that ‘studies in the UK, as well as internationally, have shown the high risk of social exclusion for care leavers, many being unable to take advantage of the life course choices and opportunities offered by the ‘risk society’.  ‘Beck further stated that:


“During these young people’s journey to adulthood they are more likely than other young people to be homeless or on the streets, have poor qualifications, lower levels of participation in post-16 educaton, higher levels of unemployment, offending behaviour and mental health problems.”


These difficulties are not unique to young people in the UK, but are rather replicated by those in Australia and other parts of the world.  For example, Sydney Community Services Commission (CSC) (2000) reported that young people leaving state care are arguably one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society.  Adding that compared to most young people, they face numerous barriers to accessing education, employment, and other developmental opportunities.





Owen, L. (2000) implied that in Melbourne, young people in care are more likely to receive poorer educational outcomes, and consequently results in high rates of unemployment.  He added that most young people who leave care become dependent on social security and experience acute poverty.


Similarly, Allen, M. (2003) suggested that research carried out in England and other parts of the United Kingdom (UK) has shown that young people leaving care are less likely to have good educational achievement; carry on to be involved in education, training or unemployment and are more vulnerable to poor life chances and social exclusion in later life.  The same is said of young people leaving care in Australia, as mentioned above.


From care leavers’ perspective, Piper, M. (1998) who entered care at the age of 12 and left at the age of 17, carried out a research (2 years after she left care) with over 300 young people (care leavers) to get their views on leaving care; and had this to say:

“Most young people who have been in care, leave with few qualifications and a poor attendance record, we therefore do not have an equal chance of success when compared to our peers who have not been in the care system.  However, many young people who have failed in early education will return to education later, so a good leaving care package might provide for this where appropriate,”


Piper further suggested that poor education can damage a young person’s chance in the job market and that many care leavers have to start looking for jobs at a much younger age than their peers.  She also claimed that the benefits system is very difficult to understand and use, but most care leavers will have to use it for a while.  Piper later further implied that, when a care leaver is setting up home or if they want to go into education or training, they will not get the financial support from their parents that their peers would expect.

The government is aware (and been over the years) that there is a gap in educational achievement between children in care/care leavers and that of their peers.  For example, the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) Autumn Performance Report (2006) highlighted that the percentage of young people in care for at least 12 months and in year 11 who achieve five or more GCSEs graded A-C or equivalent, equal 11% compared with 56% of their peer group.


In an effort to bridge this gap, the DFES published the Green Paper – Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care.  It sets out a radical package of proposals for transforming the lives of children in care.  It includes proposals on strengthening the corporate parenting role of local authorities; providing quality placements which will meet the needs of children; securing a first class education, supporting positive life outside of school and supporting transition to adulthood.  The department is also undertaking intensive targeted work with local authorities to support them in improving their approach to placement stability (DFES) 2006).


It is therefore evident that some of the identified factors contributing to poor educational attainment for children in care/care leavers are: poor quality placements that do not adequately meet the needs of children/young people; constant change of placements and with that possibly schools etc.




Biehal, N. et al (1994:233) and Kelleher et al. (2000:144) shared similar views in suggesting that, a disproportionate number of young people leaving care, become involved in prostitution and many see it as a legitimate choice in view of their minimal education and lack of employment skills.  When I worked in a pharmacy I came to know two young prostitutes and the reasons they gave for their involvement in prostitution were pretty much in line with what Biehal et al and Kelleher et al, had to say on the subject.









Mendes, P. (2005) in a case study of a leaving care debate in Australia, pointed out that numerous British and American studies have found a high association between state care and later homelessness.


Raychaba, B. (1998) suggested that research has also evidenced clear links between homelessness and mental health problems among care leavers.



According to Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG 2002), crime figures highly in deprived areas, British and Irish research suggest that a high percentage of those involved in the criminal justice system, come from a care background.  The media also reiterates this.  What I found that is not highlighted often enough is the fact that care leavers are more often victims rather than perpetrators of crime, this is mostly due to the fact that they are considered to be of one the most vulnerable groups in society (older people and children are considered to the most vulnerable).









Kelleher, P. Kelleher, C. and Corbett, M. (2000) insinuate that young people from care in England and Ireland, as well as other countries, are more likely to use and abuse drugs and alcohol.  They pointed out that such behaviour often serves as an escape from past childhood abuse and the pressure of living independently.  If that is the case, then it is obvious that more needs to be done to help these young people overcome or cope with traumatic experiences once they have been identified; equally important is adequate and appropriate preparation for independent living.




Aldgate, J. (1994) suggests that young people tend to lack a functional social network upon which they can rely on during transition from child welfare dependence to adult independence.  Aldgate argues that many care leavers face independence alone, isolated and lacking a safety net.  It’s been almost fourteen years since Aldgate’s argument, but sadly in today in 2008 the same can be said for many of our care leavers, despite the Government and Local Authorities ‘best intentions’.








Columnist Christine Toomey in one of her articles in the Sunday Times: Tender Loving Care Homes (www.timesonline.co.uk) highlighted some differences between care leavers in Germany and in the UK.


Toomey researched the care system in both Germany and the UK and found that carers in Germany offered therapeutic activities, such as body massages to children just before they retire to bed at night.  They are able to do this because they have no fear of making physical contact with children/young people, whereas in the UK there are all sorts of child protection issues and protocols which prevent workers from making any physical contact with children.


Toomey added there are so many different daily logs that workers must complete, which also offers staff a form of safety, should a child/young person accuse them of abuse.  On this note Toomey quoted one care worker in the UK who said:


“Sometimes we get so caught up with procedures that we lose sight of the child.”


Toomey further pointed out that added to the climate of paranoia, is the Government’s obsession progress targets and performance indicators.  She quoted another care worker who said:

“Many of the senior management in this field are more interested in reports, statistics and numbers, than the individual needs of the children who we look after.”


In response, Toomey argued that when it comes to comparing looked after children in Europe, those here in the UK have the bleakest futures.


Toomey continued to point out that in 2005, only 11% of those in care attained 5 GCSEs at grades A-C compared to 56% of their peers and 59% of those children in care were not entered for any GCSEs at all.  She added that the 6000 who leave care on average, experience mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction, and end up on the street homeless (as mentioned earlier); 50% find themselves unemployed within two years of leaving care; a quarter of girls are pregnant when they leave care and half of them become single mothers within two years.


When compared to care leavers in Germany where least statistics are kept, Toomey claimed that it is estimated that three quarters of those in care pass the General Certificate of Education taken at the age of 16 and 95% go on to vocational training.  She further argues that only 2% of children under 16 are out of school (compared to 12% here in the UK); and less than a quarter of those over 16 are neither in education or employment (compared to 55% of those here in the UK).  Toomey stresses that as a result fewer care leavers resort to crime in Germany; they commit an average 0.09% offences, compared to 1.73% of those in the UK, where 60% of the population have been brought up in the care system.


Toomey’s findings suggest that care staff in Germany are more hands on in helping children/young people with their homework; preparing their meals; establishing logical routines; showing children love and affection (i.e. hugs and kisses like most parents do, to show that they love and care for their children) engaging children and young people in recreational activities and maintaining stability/continuity in their home and school environment etc.  These are undoubtedly, factors which contribute to the promotion of positive and successful lives of care leavers when they enter the mainstream.


Unfortunately for care leavers in the UK, these are some of the missing links to their success.  On this note Toomey quoted a care worker in the UK who said:


“There is a desperate need for those who work in care not to be seen as ‘fire-fighters’, who intervene in a crisis, but are allowed to work with children and young people long enough to make a difference in their lives.”








Research Topic:

Young People’s (care leavers) perception of their readiness for independent living and what would have helped in minimising their vulnerability to poor educational achievement and employment.


I will be carrying out an action research, which according to Mcniff, J. and Whitehead, J. (2006) is developed out of critical theory and went beyond; emphasising that critical theory asks, ‘How can this situation be understood?’, but aims only for understanding, not for action.  They argued that action research goes a bit further in asking, ‘how can the situation be changed?


In adopting this form of research, it is my objective to examine how care-leaver’s prospects could be improved, by looking at the factors that reinforce and impede their transition to economic autonomy.  The research will therefore address the following questions:


  1. a) After a period in care and having preparation/training for

independent living, why is it that so many young people end

up in sheltered accommodation/hostels or homeless, unemployed and becoming perpetrators or victims of crime?


  1. b) Are care leavers envisaged to tackle the responsibility on

independence at too young an age?


  1. c) When does training for independence begin and is enough time given for this? Are young people adequately and appropriately prepared for independence?


  1. d) Was there any form of support network available to these young people and what effect did they have on care-leaver’s present and forthcoming participation in education and employment?


  1. e) What effects did current changes in home and school placements have on the young person’s competence to arbitrate economic autonomy?


  1. f) How did care-leaver’s individual situations, for example housing and relationships impact on their financial involvement


It is my intention that answers to these questions among others will be considered/used to improve practice; that is, the planning and support for children/young people in care and leaving care.  Thus providing support that will best enhance and promote their transition to economic development.  It is important to note that although the research is based on care-leavers, the findings will be used to influence improved support for children in care also; as leaving care cannot be looked at in a vacuum, but in conjunction with the process and journey leading to it.



Method of Data Collection


In carrying out researches, quantitative and qualitative approaches are conventionally used in data collection.  According to Gilbert, N. (2003 these approaches are commonly presented as representing divergent and opposing research traditions in social science.  This situation has been earlier described as positivistic versus interpretative by Giddens, A. (1984).  He articulated that emphasis is usually placed on the differences in the philosophical assumptions made about the nature of social reality and the relationship of the researcher and the researched.


Quantitative paradigm (positivist tradition) is generally used for large-scale researches, which aim to produce accurate data from which a general conclusion, often out of characteristics in society as a whole, can be drawn.  Here the researcher uses research tools and methodologies, such as questionnaire, experimental designs and systematic sampling to generate numerical data.  These according to Gilbert (2003) are scientific methods, which exhort the researcher to adopt a position of detachment and objectivity.  Gilbert further stated that this objective stance serves to safeguard against bias, by limiting  the amount of contact between the researcher and the researched.  Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. (2000) however, slate this approach in stating that ‘quantitative researchers are seldom able to capture their subject’s perspectives because they have to rely on remote, inferential empirical methods and materials of collecting data.”


Whilst I agree that there is value base in both quantitative and qualitative approach to research, I have chosen to adapt the qualitative paradigm (interpretative tradition) in carrying out my research.  My research is of a small-scale nature and is based on eliciting data from care leavers, examining factors which impacted on them achieving economic autonomy.  Williams, M. (1999) description of the qualitative paradigm fits well with my intentions, in that, he augmented that the qualitative approach is primarily used for small-scale researches and is based on case studies or data collected from individuals and groups; exploring the meaning that events and situations have for participants.


As a researcher I believe that it is imperative that I remain subjective and attached to my research, maintaining interaction with my sample group throughout.  The research will be carried out with the researched rather than merely about them, thus ensuring that they feel empowered and valued.  In my attempt to examine the perspectives of young care leavers and their transition to economic autonomy, I believe it will be beneficial to enter their world, by speaking to them face to face.  This will not only give me the opportunity to listen to them, but to engage in meaningful dialogue and also capture their emotions through direct observations.  On this note I acknowledge the view of Gilbert (2003), that ‘the qualitative researcher uses methods such as participant/no-participant observations and non-standardised interviews as a way of getting close to the data and studying social interactions in its natural surrounding.  In contrast, I disregard the quantitative paradigm, which assumes that it is possible to separate the researcher from the researched, (adapted from Clark, A. 1999).  It is important to note that whilst I have adopted the qualitative approach in carrying out my research, there will be little evidence of quantitative approach in the data collection.





















Design of the Instrument

Semi-structured interviews and focus groups will be the key tools used for data collection.


Focus Groups:

Langford, J. and McDonagh, D. (2003) described a focus group as a carefully planned discussion, designed to obtain the perceptions of the group members on a defined area of interest.  They added that the group-based nature of the discussions enables the participants to build on the responses and ideas of others, thus increasing the richness of information gained.


I will be using focus groups at the initial stage of the research to raise and explore the relevant issues, which will then be taken forward through in-depth interviews.  On this note, Ritchie, J. and Lewis, J. (2003) suggested that the focus groups could be used  where group process and interaction between participants, (sample group) will illuminate the research issue.  Langford and McDonagh (2003) have similar views in suggesting that this method (focus groups) offers flexibility and can be used to obtain general background knowledge for a new project, thus guiding the development of more detailed research; for example, the design of questions for interviews etc.  I will ask for volunteers from my sample group to form the focus group/s.  I will aim to have no more than ten young people in a group.  This is to ensure that there aren’t too many people in one group and more effective discussions can take place.  I will aspire to initiate similar discussions with each group, compare the responses collated and use some of the key issues which emerged, in designing questions for the interviews


I am aware that whilst focus groups can be effective in illuminating the research issue, there are also limitations.  I am aware that they are more difficult to manage than one-to-one interviews.  For example, it is not possible to predict how group members will influence the quality of the discussion.  In some cases the discussion might be lively and revealing, while others, it might be slow and lethargic, providing little information of value.  Another key factor is that, if the group/discussion is not carefully managed, the discussion may veer off into irrelevant areas.  This will result in time lost.  I trust that I have the skills to minimise these among other possible limitations and will consider them in my planning.


Semi-Structured Interviews


According to Griffee, D.T. (2005) “interviewing is a popular way of gathering qualitative research data, because it is perceived as ‘talking’, and talking is natural.”  He further suggests that semi-structured interviews are guided conversations where broad questions are asked, which do not constrain the conversation, and new questions are allowed to arise as a result.  My understanding therefore is that, semi-structured interviews are relatively formal and relaxed discussions based around a pre-determined topic/issue.  I find also that these are more effective research tools, when compared to questionnaires and surveys, which consist of very structured questions that are not deviated from them.


I have chosen this method of interviewing because of the flexibility it allows. In that, although the questions are pre-determined, I will be able to adapt the wording of some and give explanation to the interviewee where necessary.  I will be able to modify the order of questioning and eliminate any question that may seem inappropriate for particular interviewees, (Robson, C. 2002).


Semi-structured interviews, like any other research tool has its advantages as well as limitations.  This method falls between structured and focused interviews, and of such, has the potential to use techniques from both.  With this method there is much flexibility and quite effective in eliciting precise information.  May, T. (2001) commends the use of this research tool in saying, ‘the interviewer can seek both clarification and elaboration on the answers given and can therefore record qualitatively, information about the topic.  He further suggests that it allows people to answer questions more on their own terms than the standardised interview permits, but still provide a greater structure for comparability, over that of focused interviews.


Semi-structured interviews will allow me to have more dialogue with my sample group, thus being more subjective and effective in eliciting data, especially with the use of open-ended questions.  This research tool also guarantees that the right people for whom the questions are geared are the actual ones who get asked, as opposed to questionnaires done via the post.  The later has a very low response rate from personal experience are often completed by those for whom they are not intended or get thrown in the bin.  Semi-structured interviews like other interviews are however very time consuming in planning, conducting and analyzing.  There are implications when interviewees cancel and the interview has to be rescheduled, this can be time consuming and can cause delays.


This research tool may also prove costly in terms of travel expense.  Another key limitation I found with this research tool is that while it is flexible, if the interviewers are not careful they could lose control of the interview.  This is quite common when asking open-ended and probing questions.  The interviewee might want to over elaborate and the interviewer will have to be tactful in moving on.  On this note Robson implied that to make profitable use of the flexibility requires considerable skill and experience in the interviewer and that lack of standardisation will inevitably raise concerns about reliability.  All 50 young people (sample group), whether they participated in the focus groups, will be interviewed.  Most will be interviewed at a Social Services area office in the West Midlands, whilst a few will be interviewed at the local library, which is more convenient for them.









Webster, M. (1985) describes ‘a sample’ as a finite part of a statistical population whose properties are studied to gain information about the whole.  She further added that ‘when dealing with people (as is the case in this research), it can be defined as a set respondents/people selected from a large population for the purpose of a study.


‘Sampling’ is defined by Salant, P. and Dillman, D.A. (1994) as ‘the act, process or technique of selecting a suitable sample, or a representative part of a population for the purpose of determining parameters or characteristics of the whole population.


In this research, the purpose of sampling is to draw conclusions about young peoples’ transition from care to mainstream.  Here I will use inferential statistics to enable me to determine this population’s characteristics by directly investigating only a portion/sample of the population.  I will obtain a sample rather than a complete enumeration/census of the population (young people who were brought up in the care of local authority in Birmingham), because it is more cost effective and less time consuming to investigate/study a part than the whole.  On this note Patton, M.Q. (1990) stated that ‘the advantages of using a sample in research, is that sample requires fewer resources – its more economical than a census and it provides you with much needed information quickly, thus making it time effective’.


The research will involve a qualitative sample size of 50 young people, 40 (15 males and 25 females) of whom were cared for under the auspices of the Children Act 1989, section 20 or 31, and who have left care before and since the implementation of the Children Leaving Care Act 2000.  This is an effort to elicit some generalised comparison of young peoples’ perception of whether much has changed.  These 40 young people will be selected randomly from the caseload of three Local Authorities (Directorate of Children, Young People and Families) in Birmingham.  They will represent a range of care experiences.


I will be looking at factors such as, length of time since care leavers have left care and care leavers experience in care.  The other 10 young people will be 6 females and 4 males who were brought up in the care of their own families and have no experience of local authority care (they will be randomly selected from two communities in Birmingham).  Here I hope to explore the comparison of their chances/opportunities in relation to education, training and employment compared to those who were brought up under the care of the Local Authority.


The sample group will consist of diverse ethnicity, culture, religion, ability and possible sexual orientation.  There ages will range from 16 – 21.  The young people will be given a £25 incentive for dedicating their time and allowing me to investigate some of the most intimate and sensitive aspects of their lives.  Any travel expense will also be reimbursed.  There will also be a written contract that I will contact and keep them informed at all stages of the research.


For my research I will enlist the help of three fellow social work colleagues who would have agreed to participate in my research, they will assist me in arranging the interviews with the interviewees, keeping them informed; managing the resources and help me conduct the interviews.


Whilst I have outlined some advantages of sampling earlier, I am also aware that there are limitations; for example, no two interviewers are alike and the same person may provide different answers to different interviewers.  Respondents might also give incorrect answers to impress the interviewer and this type of error is the most difficult to prevent because it results from outright deceit on the part of the respondee, (adapted from Patton, 1990).  To minimise the risk of such limitations, I will seek the advice of individuals who have expert knowledge of research design and have someone who is aware of research pitfalls to serve in an auditing capacity.










A number of resources will be required in carrying out this research.  Resources as listed below:

  • Pens, writing paper, note books, envelopes and postage stamps.
  • Office, interview rooms
  • Secure filing cabinets to store confidential information collated
  • Personnel i.e. auditor (someone aware of research pitfalls), second interviewer, interpreter etc.
  • Funding to cover travel expense & incentives for participants and volunteers (to help in the research process)
  • Receipt book
  • Tape recorder & tapes
  • Video recorder & video tapes
  • Telephone – mobile and landline
  • Computers/laptops, with internet access
  • Library books/journals on issues related to the research topic
  • Removable disc/pen drive for back up storage of computer data.
  • Interim Report, Final Report.
  • Counsellors
  • Volunteers for pilot study
  • Thank you cards
  • Christmas cards



Reliability and Validity


Semi-structured interviews according to Mason, J. (2002) is considerably high in validity as this method provides a depth of information through the use of open-ended questions.  For example, ‘how well were you prepared for independent living?’  Once a response is given, I could go on to asking more related, probing questions.  The interviewee is able to talk freely, with little direction from me (or another interviewer), about the issues discussed and I will not constrain their responses through the need to ask/answer pre-determined questions.  As the interviews will be videotaped, things like body language can be studied at a later date, particularly when I come to analyzing the data.  A possible limitation however, could be that the interviewer has no real way of knowing if the interviewee is lying or not.


I could not consider semi-structured interviews to be very reliable.  It is difficult, if not impossible to exactly repeat an interview, since for most parts the questions might not be predetermined but rather developed out of predetermined ones.  In addition, the interviewee is encouraged to talk freely in depth and detail.  If you think of this method as being like a conversation, how many conversations are ever exactly the same?  Another issue that could affect reliability, is that the interviewee may answer the same question in a different way depending on a number of factors (eg. How they feel, their relationship with the interviewer etc) that are impossible for the researcher to control, (adapted from Kirk, J. and Miller, M.  1986). Validity and reliability with regards to focus groups are pretty similar to semi-structured interviews.


The sample/interviewees will be interviewed a second time, i.e. a year after they were first interviewed, to check the reliability and validity of the research findings.  I will therefore examine young peoples’ circumstances at the beginning of the research and where they are one year on.


















Pilot Study


My understanding of a pilot study is that it is a small version of the main research study, carried out before the actual investigation/research is carried out.  Mason, J. (2002) stated that ‘the information gathered in pilot studies is used by many researchers to refine or modify the research methodology before the actual research’.  Murphy’s Law cited by Burhand, K. (2003) says that ‘anything that can go wrong will go wrong’.  Therefore, I have decided to run a pilot study, so that things that the possibility of things going wrong can be identified at this early stage; and any problems can be rectified before the start of the main research.


The pilot study for my research will be carried out with a few work colleagues (social workers) and seven young people who were brought into to the care of the Local Authority.  These will be volunteers who do not form part of my actual sample group.  I will run one focus group and individual semi-structured interviews with this pilot sample.  The questions and discussions will follow the plan for the actual research.  Some of the questions will be those predetermined ones I designed and others which developed out of the initial focus group.  On this note, Ritchie and Lewis (2003) advised that piloting a research plan is a critical part of a research.  I will arrange to have a second person to help me carry out the pilot study.  This idea is adapted from Ritchie and Lewis’ view that ‘a useful aid in the refinement of pilot study strategies is for the members of the team to conduct the interviews/focus groups in pairs’.

This will be useful for our discussions on how well the plan is working, how to respond to unanticipated issues/circumstances which are highlighted and how to incorporate them in later data collection.  Further more, I will also be able to verify that there is the consistent comprehension of the research objectives and purpose.  I will seek to identify whether the methodology enables the pilot sample to give a full and articulate narrative of the fundamental issues and include other issues they think are important; through the use of probing questions for example.  Therefore I will be interested in ascertaining whether the research questions put constrain on the participant’s responses.


Once the pilot study has been conducted and analysed, the finding will be used to determine if and what changes need to be implemented before the actual research is launched.












Project Plan

July 2008





  • Interviewer x 1 to be recruited (volunteer).
  • Field/casual workers x 2 to be recruited (volunteers).
  • Auditor x 1 to be recruited.


(1 week – 2 x 1.5 hour preparation sessions)


Project Plan Cont’d





Data Analysis


All focus groups will be tape-recorded (participants will be made aware of this from the onset).  I will also take notes during the discussions.  This is mainly because it is not always possible to identify individuals on tape, to record their body language and facial expressions etc.  The semi- structured interviews will be video recorded.


The information collected from these audio and visual tapes is raw material.  My task then as the researcher is to prepare a statement or account regarding the data collected, since ‘qualitative comes in the form of words rather than numbers’ (Miles, M. and Huberman, A. 1984).  The first step is to transcribe the entire interviews.  This will provide a complete record of the discussions and will facilitate data analysis.  The next step is to analyse the content of the discussions.  Kreuger, R.A. (1988) suggested that the aim of this analysis is to look for trends and patterns that appear within the focus groups/interviews.  I will take this on board and once the collated data is carefully interpreted, I will be able to draw some conclusions with regards to the difficulties/disadvantages young people (care leavers) encounter as they embark on the world of economic autonomy and what could have helped to make this experience more meaningful.





Ethical Issues


Williams, M.  (2006) stated that to behave ethically is to behave in a manner that is considered socially appropriate, but more than that, it is a commitment to certain principles.  He further noted that ethical principles underpin our moral commitment as citizens and underpins those things we do as social researchers, stressing that as researchers we need to know what it is to act ethically.


According to Punch, K. (2000) all social research involves consent, access and other ethical values, since it is based on data from people and about people.  Bearing in mind, I will approach Social Services formal Ethics Committee with my proposal to carry out a research on young people from their caseload and ask for approval.  Once approval is granted the research sample will be fully informed about the nature/purpose of the research and how they were selected.  They will be asked to give informed consent for their involvement.  They will not be coerced into participating; hence they will also be informed of their right to agree/disagree to participate, a point made by Robson, C. (2002).


The interviewees will be assured that they will remain anonymous and that information held about them will not be shared without their prior consent, unless it is deemed absolutely necessary.  (for example, where the law has been broken or they have been victims of un-reported abuse; in which case I have a duty to notify the relevant authorities).  This is in accordance to the Data Protection Act 1998.


Interviewees will also be made aware that if at any point during the interview they find any issue emotionally distressing, due to issues brought up about their past etc, they have the right to pause or terminate the interview, on this note Williams (2006) cited that ‘ethical standards require that researchers must not put participants at risk of harm (physical/psychological) as a result of their participation’.  I will ensure that there is a counselling service available for those who may need it.  Another ethical issue to consider is that although participants will be given a £25 incentive that does not mean that they are obliged to give any information that they do not want to.  Paying them should not be an opportunity for exploitation.


It is also important to ensure that the interview sessions remain within the time limit and that the interviewer does not get side tracked/carried away.  On this note, Johnson (1984) cited by Bell, J. (1999) stated that, ‘if an interview takes two or three times as long as the interviewer said it would, the respondent whose work or social activities have been delayed accordingly, will be irritated in retrospect, however enjoyable the experience may have been at the time.  Adding that this sort of practice breaks one of ethics of professional research.




Reflective Account


Whilst several researches have been carried out around care leaver’s transition to independent living, not much has been documented on the care leaver’s perception of their readiness for this transition.  Therefore it is an interesting area for me to develop my research in.  I limited my research proposal to research on young care leavers in Birmingham, rather than nationally or globally, the reason being, that I am only doing a small scale research.  It would be time consuming, as well as financially and physically difficult if not impossible to study all young people leaving care.  Interpreting such data would also be highly problematic.


It is hoped however, that if the findings of this research can effectively influence changes in the planning, practice/delivery of service to young people in care or leaving care in Birmingham, then the ideas may be rolled out and introduced to other local authorities.   If this research was to be carried out, it would be crucial to find the funding from local authorities in or around Birmingham.


Writing this dissertation has been a long and arduous process, but at the same time very enjoyable and informative, especially when I researched the literature for the literature review.  There is huge amount of information to go through and the constant worry of; ‘have I chosen the right articles? sticking to the word limit, and not forgetting to keep the reader interested and informed about my chosen subject.


The information gathered in the literature review suggests that young people are inadequately and inappropriately prepared for the all so important transition from local authorities’ care to independence.  Care laver’s poor educational attainment and further employment and other difficulties appear to stem from several factors such as; children being inappropriately placed in placements that do not meet their needs; disruption in placements and schools caused by constant moves; children/young peoples emotional needs not being addressed and expectations for young people to assume responsibility of economic autonomy/independence when they are clearly not ready or too young to live independently.


There also appears to be poor after care support for young people during the transition period.  During my time at a young people’s resettlement project, a social worker for a young girl leaving care commented that ‘After Care’ policies were open to interpretations.  This meant that different workers/agencies had their own interpretations.  This had implications for care leavers.  For example, when the social worker contacted an after care team (who according to their policy, had the responsibility of finding and funding suitable accommodation for young people post 16 and leaving care) to check on the progress of accommodation and financial support for a young person.  The social worker forwarded the young person’s referral and ‘pathway plan’ (see appendix 1) three months previously.


They directed the social worker to another agency to find accommodation, who in turn redirected the social worker to them.  A few days before the young person was due to leave her foster placement, the social worker was told to find accommodation and they will sort out the funding.  The social worker could not find a suitable placement for the young person, so she asked the foster carer to keep the teenager for a few more days, she agreed.  The question is how many more similar or even worse situations are there? And how is that giving the welfare of the child/young person paramount consideration.


To be effective in meeting care leavers needs, the various schemes set up by he Government/Local Authorities need to involve young people in planning, as no one knows better than these young people what their needs are; to establish more effective multi-agency working and most importantly have clear roles and objectives, which are outlined in a language that a young person can clearly understand.


Placement stability/continuity, family contacts with family/foster carer/residential workers and other support networks are also crucial in promoting a successful future for these young people.  On this note Stein, M. (1997) suggested that young people who feel supported and encouraged by family members of former foster carers are most likely to be able to cope with major changes facing them.


Finally, if care leaving can be so successful and unproblematic for care leavers in Germany, then perhaps it is time to adapt some of their good here in England.



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[Word Count 10,003 excluding references and appendix]














Appendix 1

Definition of Key Terminologies




  • After Care –This can be defined as planned arrangements for care/support young people will receive when they are discharged from care of Local Authority.




  • Care Leavers – The Department for Education and Skills 2003 (DFES, 2003) defines care leavers as:



Those young people who leave care (cease to be looked after) between the ages of 16 – 18 and who qualify for advice and assistance under section 24 of the Children Act 1989 (CA 1989).




  • Children in Need – The Children Act 1989 cited by Brayne and Carr (2003) defines a child in need as:



“He is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for him of services by a local authority; or his health or development is likely to be significantly impaired; or further impaired, without the provision for him of such services; or he is disabled.”



  • Independence/Independent Living – This term is used to refer to care leavers taking on the responsibilities of living independently in the mainstream once they are discharged from care.






  • Looked After Children (LAC) –  Pierson and Thomas (2002) stated:


“This is the phrase used in law to describe children being cared for by the local authority.”


  • Local Authority – Pierson and Thomas (2002) define this as:


“The democratically elected bodies responsible fro providing public service at a local level.”



  • Pathway Plan – Maybe defined as a comprehensive plan that looks at the support a young person will need to live independently.  It includes elements such as where the young person will live; education/training needs; financial support; any cultural or identity needs; and health and lifestyle needs.  This plan takes over when the young person’s care plan ends, and must be completed within 3 months of the young person’s 16th birthday.



  • Children Act 1989  


     Section 20:

     This refers to accommodation, when children are ‘looked after’ by local

authority, by agreement with, or at the request of their parents.  In these

circumstances the parents retain parental responsibility.  Under this

section of the Children Act, it is the duty of the local authority to make

accommodation available for such a child in need.   Children may be

accommodated for a short or long period depending on the child’s needs

and circumstances.  No court proceedings are required.



Section 31: Care Orders


     A care order is made by the court under this section.  This places the child

under the care of the local authority and parental responsibility placed with

them.  A court order shall only be made if the court is satisfied that:


  1. The child concerned is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and
  2. the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to either


The care given to the child, or likely to be given to the child if the order was

not made, not being what would be reasonable to expect a parent to give

him or the child being beyond parental control.


(adapted from Brayne and Carr 2003)