Home > Research on young people leaving state care in North Dublin.

Keane, Martin (2013) Research on young people leaving state care in North Dublin. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 44, Winter 2012, pp. 19-20.

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Recently published research examined the issues facing young people leaving state care in North Dublin.1 The research was commissioned by the independent association, Empowering People in Care (EPIC). Currently there is no statutory obligation to provide aftercare services to people leaving state care when they reach age 18, however, the Health Service Executive (HSE) provides a discretionary package of supports and services to some young people who are deemed to be in need. These provisions are made under Section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991, which states:  ‘Aftercare services may be provided to young care leavers up to the age of 21 or when they finish education.’

The bulk of data in this report comes from surveys completed by eight aftercare workers on the circumstances of 65 young people, including 33 females, who were receiving aftercare support in North Dublin. Data were collected in two rounds: in May/June 2010 when all 65 young people were aged 17–18, and again in December 2010/January 2011 when 34 of the young people were aged 19.

It was reported that 42 of the young people were first placed in care because of their parents’ inability to cope or their parents’ alcohol and drug problems; 27 were first placed in care owing to abuse and neglect. Eleven of the young people were first placed in care because of their own alcohol and drug use and behavioural difficulties. Seventeen were first placed in care when aged five or under.
Twenty-five of the young people had spent more than 10 years in care; 22 had spent 1–5 years. Thirty-three spent their final placement in foster care, 18 with a relative and 15 in general foster care; 18 spent their final placement in residential care. Twenty-four spent more than five years in their final placement, 30 spent 1–5 years and 17 less than one year. Twenty-four young people had one care placement and 11 had two placements during their time in care; eight had more than five placements. Spending time in foster care was associated with one placement; in contrast, spending time in residential care was associated with more than one placement. Females were more likely than males to experience multiple placements. Reducing the number of different placements was reported by aftercare workers to promote stability and positive outcomes for young people.
At Round 2 of data collection, it was reported that 23 of the young people had no accommodation moves in the previous 20 months, 14 had two moves and 20 have moved three or more times. Movement between different accommodations was associated with multiple care placements. It was reported at Round 1  of data collection that 18 of the young people had experienced homelessness at least once in their lives.
It was reported that 25 of the young people had completed their education at junior certificate level, 17 had reached leaving certificate level and a further 13 were currently attending college, most of whom were studying a post-leaving certificate course; eight young people had no formal educational qualifications. There were reductions in the numbers of young people in education and training between Rounds 1 and 2 of data collection, and an increase in unemployment among the young people.
At Round 1 of data collection 29 young people were regular smokers and 27 were regular consumers of alcohol; at Round 2 these numbers increased to 35 regular smokers and 40 regular users of alcohol. In contrast, there was a reported reduction in the use of illegal drugs, from 27 reported users at Round 1 to 23 at Round 2. Aftercare workers reported an increase from 20 to 25 in the number of young people with mental health needs between the two rounds of data collection.
Analysis of the data gathered in Round 2 helped define ‘positive outcomes’ in terms of seven key aspects of a young person’s circumstances while in care and on leaving care (p. 51):
1.       no accommodation moves since Round 1;
2.       not being homeless at any time;
3.       being engaged in further education or training beyond secondary school;
4.       having sat leaving certificate or equivalent;
5.       having contact with at least one member of birth family after leaving care;
6.       not engaging in risky behaviour; and
7.       having overall good physical and mental health and not using illicit drugs.
It was reported that 29 of the young people in this study had achieved 2–4 of the seven outcomes, 24 had achieved 5–7 and 12 had achieved 0 or 1 outcome. Further analysis of the data suggested that when young people remain in the same care placement, typically foster care, they experience positive outcomes to assist in their transition from state care to adulthood.
Data were collected through interviews with eight of the young people. The main issues identified through thematic analysis of the data were that the young people were concerned with multiple accommodation moves and with their mental health needs after leaving care. They identified social support as their greatest need and expressed disquiet at the speed of transition from care to the community, preferring more step-down supported accommodation to aid a gradual transition.  Overall, they spoke positively about the aftercare support they were receiving but had concerns about not having access to their support workers during out-of-office hours and with the challenges they experienced with budgeting.
The report acknowledges the potential limitation of relying on data collected through surveys with aftercare workers, whose records may have been incomplete and whose perceptions of young people’s circumstances may not have been a true representation of their situation. The author acknowledges that it would have been preferable to survey the young people but that this had been ruled out as it would have required a time consuming exercise gaining informed consent from a number of agencies that were involved in the lives of young people.
1.       Daly F (2012) ‘My voice has to be heard’: research on outcomes for young people leaving state care in North Dublin. Dublin: EPIC. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/18294

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