Posted: 25 August 2015

Councils must tackle ‘poverty of well-being’ for children in care

Children not living with their family – including those living in care – are five times more likely to have low well-being.  That’s the worrying picture painted by our Good Childhood Report 2015.

The report explores the ‘subjective well-being’ – the life satisfaction and positive or negative emotions – of children in the UK and internationally. Overall, around 5-10% of all children in the UK have low levels of well-being, but some groups fare worse than others.

Of particular concern for The Children’s Society are children not living with their family, which includes many children who live in foster care or children’s homes. Alarmingly, more than half (52%) of these children have low well-being.

Impact of abuse and neglect

We know life events have a big impact on well-being, and most children who live in care will be there because they have suffered traumatic abuse or neglect. And many won’t have a supportive family network to help them through life’s ups and downs. So the fact that children not living with their family have lower well-being isn’t a huge surprise, but our findings expose the true scale of the problem.

It’s not good enough for local authorities – the ‘corporate parents’ of children in care - to accept these figures as inevitable. Like any good parent, they should take positive action to make sure children are happy and flourishing.

We believe that too often, care is seen simply as a last resort for children who need to be removed from harmful situations. But that’s only part of the story: the purpose of care should be re-focused, so that it helps children to overcome the trauma of abuse and neglect, promotes emotional well-being and helps them becoming flourishing, healthy and independent adults.

Promote positive well-being

An important first step is to make sure that every looked after child receives regular assessments of their emotional well-being throughout their time in care. This will help their carers to take steps to promote positive well-being, as well as identify problems early on and offer appropriate support.

At the moment, every child in care aged between four and 16 years-old undergoes a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), which is a screening tool used by carers to identify emotional and behavioural problems. But we believe that a wider consideration of their overall emotional well-being needs to take place. 

Our previous research – based on a survey of 10 to 15 year olds - found a significant link between low subjective well-being and mental health issues. By measuring subjective well-being, we were able to identify a group of young people who were not faring well in areas such as family or school life, but would not have been picked up using just the SDQ alone.

By asking children about their well-being and life satisfaction, rather than concentrating solely on behavioural or emotional problems, carers can identify early those children who might need support, but haven’t yet cross the threshold for mental health intervention.

The government and councils need to take action to make sure this happens for every child. And individual carers can also use our ‘How to Support your child’s well-being’ guide for advice on simple steps to promote positive well-being for the children you care for.

Read the full Good Childhood Report 2015.



By Euan Holloway - Policy team

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Posted: 1 January 1970


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Posted: 1 January 1970