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‘Sympathy but also negative judgements’: public attitudes to children in care

A new survey on public attitudes to children in care and care leavers, published as part of Care Experienced History Month UK, finds evidence of some ‘negative and stigmatising associations’.

12/04/21

‘Sympathy but also negative judgements’: public attitudes to children in care

A survey on public attitudes to children in care and care leavers finds sympathy for those with care experience, but also finds evidence of ‘stigmatising associations’.

The survey, conducted by YouGov on behalf of children’s adoption and fostering charity Coram, found that while most people are sympathetic to the challenges faced by children in care, some continue to hold negative judgements that potentially stigmatise care-experienced young people.

The survey of over 2,000 UK adults uncovered that while 81% of those asked thought that children in care are neither a good nor bad influence on other children, around one in eight (12%) believe they are a bad influence.

When asked for the first three words that came to mind when thinking about ‘children in care’, most respondents reported negative terms.

The most popular responses included the words ‘sad’, ‘poor’, ‘abused’, ‘vulnerable’ and ‘orphan’, with other commonly reported terms including ‘unloved’, ‘trauma’ and ‘troubled’.

Julian Brown, a 20-year-old care leaver who hosts the ‘Foundling: Found’ podcast exploring how children in care have been depicted throughout history, emphasised the need for a change in perceptions of negativity for those with experience of care.

“We need to change the notion that those in care are always journeying through life being ‘scared’, ‘lonely’, ‘troubled’, ‘unloved’ and ‘unfortunate’. Just reading these words is degrading in itself.

“I know from care-experienced people that I have spoken to that being in care has been ‘life-saving’, ‘freedom’, a ‘second chance’ and a ‘life they never knew existed.”

Coram says the findings show that public attitudes are “little-changed” from previous research carried out in 2017, which found ‘lonely/loneliness’, ‘sad’ and ‘troubled’ to be among the most commonly reported terms to describe children in care.

The majority of respondents had some awareness of the unique challenges that care leavers face, highlighting inadequate support into adulthood and difficulty accessing education and jobs.

A majority of respondents (62% to 76%) also favoured support measures for care-experienced young people including education, housing, financial, apprenticeships and mental health support.

The findings are published following the recent launch of Coram’s #RealStoriesOfCare campaign which showcases the personal stories of care-experienced young people today and through history.

The campaign has been co-produced with care-experienced children and young people who highlighted the importance of showing the diverse experiences of care, showing a balance of positive and negative aspects of care to counter the “inaccurate or stigmatised perspectives”.

Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said that while it is encouraging to see people recognise the importance of specialist support for young care leavers, the findings also suggest a failure to see children in care and care leavers as individuals.

“Care-experienced children and young people have told us that negative associations can ‘follow them around’, undermining their efforts and limiting their potential,” Dr Homden said.

“The Government’s Independent Review of Children’s Social Care is a timely opportunity for us all to hear young people’s voices, to ensure we portray their experiences in a more balanced light, and to celebrate their aspirations and achievements.

Find out more about the Foundling: Found podcast exploring how children in care have been depicted throughout history: https://coramstory.org.uk/explore/content/blog/foundling-found-a-new-podcast-series/

Read the full ‘Public attitudes to children in care and care leavers’ report: https://www.coram.org.uk/sites/default/files/resource_files/Public%20attitudes%20to%20children%20in%20care%20and%20care%20leavers%20Coram.pdf

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