New £2.8m research project to explore mental health outcomes for young people in care

Cardiff University

A new research project is to investigate factors linked to the mental health and wellbeing of care-experienced young people.

The four-year programme is led by an interdisciplinary team from the universities of Bath and Oxford, in collaboration with colleagues at Cardiff University and the University of Bristol.

The programme will focus on two transition periods – moving from primary to secondary school and moving from adolescence into adulthood.

The research team will aim to identify key processes linked to the mental health and wellbeing of care-experienced young people, with a specific focus on psychological process and the role of support systems and services, to identify targets for future intervention and prevention programmes.

Professor Katherine Shelton, an expert in developmental psychology from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, said: “We intend that this research mark a major advance in our understanding of the psychological profile of young people with experiences of care at key moments in their childhoods. It is particularly exciting that this project spans Wales and England.”

The work will be supported by Adoption UK and Coram Voice, as well as three panels of care-experienced young people.

By involving young people with direct experience of foster care, residential care and/or adoption, the researchers want to develop a deeper understanding about individuals’ pre-care experiences, their experiences while at school, and how individuals see themselves, and manage their emotions.

One in 30 UK children are taken into care at some point before their 18th birthday. Many of these young people have experienced abuse, neglect, and other difficulties. Once in care, they are often separated from siblings and live with multiple carers, and this ongoing instability can compound their early experiences and have long-term consequences.

The research team hope their findings will lead to improved understanding of the needs of care-experienced young people, and improved outcomes, alongside more practical support for social workers, teachers, mental health professionals, adoptive parents and foster carers.

The research will use existing national data from approximately 14,000 care-experienced young people and will also include new longitudinal studies, involving 600 young people aged between 10-18, their carer(s), adoptive parent(s) and/or social workers.

Around £2.2m for this project has been funded directly by UK Research and Innovation, with the remaining funding coming from the universities involved.

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