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Understanding the experiences of young people who enter care aged 16 and over

Research Lead at Barnardo’s Innovation Lab says the experiences and outcomes of late entrants is not very well documented and gives tips for working with late entrants to the care system.

26/01/21

Understanding the experiences of young people who enter care aged 16 and over

A lead researcher at Barnardo’s has highlighted key findings discovered from interviews with young people entering care at or after the age of 16 and professionals working with them.

Sohila Sawhney, Research Lead at Barnardo’s Innovation Lab, says there are large regional variations in the proportion of care leavers in England who enter care at or after the age of 16. Twenty-nine percent of late entrants were from London authorities, compared to just 3% in the North East, according to this year’s annual statistics.

Writing in a blog for Research in Practice, Sohila said that late entrants often come into care through four main routes: as unaccompanied asylum seekers, through the youth justice system, through mental health inpatient services, or through emergency placements following family breakdown/contextual safeguarding.

Various themes emerged from the research, including a lack of faith among young people that much could change; a suspicion of bureaucracy and multiple worker changes; and that some young people appreciated the support despite recognising that it was not ideal – particularly for unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people.

Sohila says that in many cases, young people felt supported with both practical and emotional challenges, but that this was “not a consistent experience”. Rushed handovers between staff, eligibility for care leaver support on release from prison coming to the attention of the leaving care team late, and problems with documentation and age assessments for unaccompanied young people were all identified as common areas for improvement.

“Taking time to build relationships with late entrants is key,” Sohila says, as late entrants are only ‘in the system’ for a short amount of time.

Sohila offered tips to those working with late entrants to care, such as reminding them of their rights and entitlements often and in different ways.

“The impact of trauma and disruption means young people might not always understand or remember what you’re telling them the first or even second time.”

Where possible, she advised that documents be shared virtually to assist young people with online translation.

“Be prepared to support late entrants with both evident (emergency support with housing and money) and entrenched issues (accumulative impact of trauma).

“Young people can sense when they are being pushed out and this is particularly so for those in care for a short time. Similarly, adolescents who enter care late may seem to be doing well enough to progress on without support, however this could be a coping mechanism to mask deeper issues as they might want to disengage quickly once they have received support for their most pressing needs.

“Understand their networks and work towards a model of interdependence where there are assets and allies within these networks who can sustainably and safely support young people after statutory services end.”

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