About the research

Study background

Recent studies estimate that 1 in 8 children and young people are likely to be impacted by mental ill health in England, with this estimate rising to 1 in 6 during the Covid-19 pandemic. At any given time in England, there are around 80,000 children and young people in State care (also referred to as ‘Children in Care’). These constitute a vulnerable group of children and young people in society, with more than 60% of these children and young people having histories of severe maltreatment such as abuse or neglect. Consequently, being taken into care is an ‘intervention’ for this vulnerable group, with the expectation that State care will then ameliorate or at least stabilise their mental health. Despite this, numerous research studies indicate that mental concerns in this vulnerable child and young person population is high.

Mental health disorders experienced in childhood and adolescence not only impact the short and long-term health, wellbeing, socioeconomic trajectories and family life of children and young people, but also exert pressure and a financial toll on the health and social care systems and the State through their impact on mental health services, the cost of interventions and pressure on State benefits system. However, as the most recent national survey of the mental health of children and young people in care was carried out in 2002, little is known about recent trends. In addition, there has been limited scope in recent studies to explore how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected this vulnerable group of children.

To address these gaps in knowledge two research studies are being conducted:

Research study 1: MH-CAT: A longitudinal survey of the mental health of children in State care in England during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this study, two online surveys were created to collect data directly from Children in Care aged 11-18 years old, over an 18-month period, during the Covid-19 pandemic. The data collected covered a wide range of policy and practice relevant questions about children and young people’s mental health and the influence of their placement, schooling, social work support, the strength of their support networks and their contact with birth families. We believe that this will be useful to local-level managers, practitioners and national-level policy makers in making key decisions about children in Care. More information on this study can be found here.

Research study 2: Longitudinal mental health trajectories of children growing up in State care in England: An exploration of patterns and influencing factors.

This study will carry out secondary analyses of longitudinal, national-level administrative data on children in care┬áto understand the mental health trajectories of children growing up in State care. It will use statistical modelling techniques known as latent trajectory models. Survey data from Research study 1 will be linked to this national data to enable analyses of how children’s characteristics, school and care related factors influence the mental health patterns of children in care. More information on this study can be found here.