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Brown, Rebecca and Alderson, Hayley (2020) Mapping alcohol use through the care system. London: Alcohol Change UK.

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‘Looked after children’ are children and young people up to the age of 18 who are under the legal guardianship of their local authority, also known as ‘in care’. ‘Care leavers’ are those transitioning out the care system but who are still entitled to support from their local authority (up to the age of 25). This project investigates looked after children and care leavers’ (henceforth LACCL) relationship to alcohol and the role it plays in their lives; the social and psychological factors influencing use (such as peer and familial influences); how alcohol use relates to other drug use; and their experiences of relevant support services. 

Key findings

  • The participants tended to start drinking around age 14, but initiation ranged between 12-17 years old. For many, starting to drink was influenced by their vulnerability and a result of being in the care system.
  • Placement type appeared to influence alcohol use. Residential homes were seen to be particularly conducive in starting/increasing alcohol consumption (and other drug use), whereas foster care was perceived to be a moderating, protective factor.
  • Most of the young people had gone through periods of increased or decreased alcohol use, often by conscious decision. Reasons for abstaining or reducing use were often associated with the vulnerabilities and stresses that may be more likely for this group.
  • Some had a particularly complex relationship with alcohol and other substances, in particularly those who had lost a parent and/or other relatives to alcohol use.
  • The majority of the sample drank minimally or occasionally. The main reason for this was a purposeful choice to avoid repeating the patterns of parents and other relatives.
  • Most participants felt that being in care influences alcohol use in a negative way due to experiences prior to care and the result of being in care itself.

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