Dr Rebecca Anthony discusses her four-year Fellowship funded by Health and Care Research Wales. The Fellowship will examine care-experienced children and young people’s social support, their perceptions of relationships and the association with mental health and wellbeing.
Since joining DECIPHer, my focus has been on the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents, particularly those who have experienced care. My research focuses on the intersection between psychology and social care, and my PhD examined this in relation to adoptive families in Wales. As my research progressed, I noticed a lack of focus on relational aspects of children and young people in care. Surprisingly, we know very little from children and young people themselves about their experience of relationships with people such as their carers and teachers. When I heard about the Health and Care Research Wales Fellowship Call, I applied with the aim of filling that knowledge gap.
Why is this an issue?
The quote ‘Feeling loved and appreciated…’ comes from materials created by care-experienced young people to highlight what matters to them and their research priorities. The importance of feeling loved came through as a clear theme. The young people had help from CASCADE Voices – a group of young people associated with Voices from Care Cymru; Youth Fostering Ambassadors – a group of young people associated with The Fostering Network; Tribe – a group of young people involved in the Reaching Wider ‘Diamond Project’ at Swansea University, and others for the project. More about this project can be read here.
There are currently over 80,000 children and young people living in local authority care in England and Wales (1,2 ). Research indicates that half of care-experienced children and young people have clinically significant social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties (3), which are linked to causing distress as well as poor health and education outcomes. It’s fair, therefore, to say the mental health of care-experienced children and young people is a significant social care and public health concern.
Research shows that relationships with caregivers that are warm, sensitive, and responsive are associated with better mental health and wellbeing (MHW) outcomes (4). However, many children in care experience changes to placements, resulting in new carers and environments. These changes may make it more difficult to feel loved and appreciated and trust people going forward, aspects associated with mental health and wellbeing.
How will this work?
My PhD focused on the influence of a young person’s relationship with their adoptive parent. This Fellowship is a continuation of that research, using more advanced methods and looking at a wider group of children and young people who have experienced care.
I will produce a scoping review of available international evidence about care experienced children and young people’s relationships and social support. I’ll also conduct interviews with care-experienced children and young people in Wales, talking about their experiences of social support and relationships, particularly aspects they found most helpful or harmful to their mental health and wellbeing.
I’m really looking forward to learning more about creative methods and speaking to the children and young people themselves
Following this there will be a significant quantitative work package, which will involve conducting repeated cross-sectional analysis of the School Health Research Network (SHRN) Student Health and Wellbeing (SHW) surveys to investigate trends in children and young people’s perceptions of relationships (carer, peer and teacher) over time. It will also examine how these relationships are associated with each other and mental health and wellbeing. The final aspect will link the SHW surveys with social care and health datasets using SAIL to examine if relationships can moderate the relationship between early adversity and later mental health and wellbeing.
Two groups of care-experienced children and young people across the UK and a recruited group of foster and kinship carers will be involved throughout. They will help with issues such as what to ask in interviews, what data is most important to look at and how we should best share the findings. While most of my role within DECIPHer has been secondary data analysis, I’m really looking forward to learning more about the qualitative research aspects and getting out there and speaking to the young people themselves.
Watch this space
The findings will be available to the public, researchers, local authority organisations and relevant charities through conference presentations, webinars, podcasts, summary findings and academic publications. I also hope to get additional funding to design an animation with children and young people to share widely.
I’ll keep you posted as the Fellowship progresses – expect further updates on the DECIPHer website!
More information on ‘Feeling loved and appreciated: The importance of relationships and social support for children and young people who’ve experienced care’ can be found here.
More information about Health and Care Research-funded Fellowships can be found here: https://healthandcareresearchwales.org/faculty-personal-awards/our-funded-projects-and-awards?award=43
1. UK Government. Children looked after in England including adoptions: Reporting year 2022. In: National Statistics, editor. UK,2022.
2. Welsh Government. Children looked after. In: StatsWales, editor. Cardiff, Wales: Welsh Government, 2022.
3. Sempik J, Ward H, Darker I. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties of Children and Young People at Entry into Care. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2008;13(2):221-33.
4. Boeldt DL, Rhee SH, Dilalla LF, Mullineaux PY, Schulz-Heik RJ, Corley RP, et al. The Association between Positive Parenting and Externalizing Behavior. Infant and child development. 2012;21(1):85-106.