The safety and wellbeing of looked after young people
: an analysis of looked after young people’s experiences and perceptions with implications for contemporary safeguarding policy and practice

  • Kim Bown

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Looked after young people, the focus of this thesis, are young people in state or public care. They frequently have complex family circumstances, socially excluded backgrounds and often intense need. Whilst it is possible to identify trends and patterns in their backgrounds, their needs and requirements are essentially heterogeneous (Bullock, Parker, Courtney, Sinclair and Thoburn, 2006, p. 1346).

The research was undertaken within the national context of persistently poor educational, health and behavioural outcomes for looked after young people, evidence from Inquiry reports of historic abuse, and contemporary concerns that small groups of looked after young people may not be safe (Ofsted, 2008d, p. 5). Inaddition, a dissonance was found between contemporary social policy developments for looked after young people and effective implementation which impacts positively on their experiences and outcomes.

Previous research on the topic from the perspective of young people themselves remains under developed. The study aimed to investigate the views of 25 looked after young people who had recently left a placement about their safety and wellbeing whilst in their previous placement. The researcher adopted a case study design, an interpretivist perspective and conducted in-depth interviews using structured and semi-structured methods.

The study found most participants felt safe but some felt unsafe to varying degrees.Participants felt most safe from sexual harm and least safe from physical harm and bullying. Carers, other looked after young people and foster carers’ own children were identified as the main sources of harm. Families were identified as the people who were most effective in listening and looking out for participants’ safety and wellbeing. Formal complaints procedures were found to be inadequate for communicating young.

Close trusting relationships with family, friends, carers and social workers were found to be important but often experienced as inadequate. Participants mostly wanted to discuss important, personal issues with people with whom they had a close, personal relationship.

High levels of placement discontinuity and complex care arrangements often resulted in disrupted key relationships and contributed to making key information – including knowing the reasons for being looked after – difficult to understand and recall for some participants. Having a clear sense of self history was identified as contributing to self identity, and the building of resilience and wellbeing.

The study identified an absence of person centeredness relating to looked after young people. The study compared aspects of UK and European welfare models and found the UK model to be antithetical to the importance of relationships, participation and the centrality of the young person. European social pedagogic models were generally found to achieve greater synergy with young people’s perspectives and priorities.

The study concludes by emphasising the close inter-relationship between the key concepts of ‘safeguarding from harm’ and ‘promotion of wellbeing’. Four emergent categories identified from the analysis of findings are proposed as the key components of a new model of safeguarding and wellbeing for looked after young people. These four components are: feeling safe; inclusion and participation;continuity and quality of relationships; and sense of self and self history. In addition to these four components, the defining feature of the model is presented as the centrality of the voice of the looked after young person, with subsequent implications for policy and practice. people’s concerns about their safety and wellbeing. Many participants valued their participation in education and wanted increased participation in all important decisions that would, or could, impact on their safety and wellbeing. A close interrelationship was found between participation, outcomes, power and engagement. The concepts of ‘voice’ and ‘exit’ were applied to the analysis of participation to denote inclusive, empowered levels of participation and, conversely, levels which contribute to disconnection and disengagement.
Date of AwardSept 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorKieron Hatton (Supervisor)

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