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Do ethnic minority care leavers suffer from a ‘double whammy’?

By Chris A Garrington, on 31 January 2024

Research into the long-term effects of children’s social care has highlighted that this group often experience poor outcomes. But does ethnicity have an additional effect? Amanda Sacker and colleagues used census data to compare different groups of care-experienced adults – and their results challenge previous assumptions.

The Looked after children grown up project, on which we have worked for several years, has provided compelling evidence of the disadvantages suffered later in life by those who have spent all or part of their childhood in care.

So when we set out to look at the relative effects of having been in care on different ethnic groups we did so with the premise that minority status would compound their disadvantage. In fact, we found ethnicity affected adult outcomes following care in both positive and negative ways.

Using linked census data from the ONS Longitudinal Study, we were able to track the lives of almost 670,000 people who were children between 1971 and 2001. An important aspect of our study was that we were able to compare those who had experienced care with peers who had not – something which other studies of ethnicity and care had not been able to do.

We know from earlier studies that Black children tend to be over-represented among the care population, while those from Asian backgrounds are under-represented. But there is no certainty about why – perhaps institutional racism affects social workers’ decisions about Black children; perhaps South Asian children are more likely to be cared for by wider family networks, but these are questions we cannot definitively answer.

And they could affect what happens to the different groups after they leave care, because those who only go into care in the most difficult or deprived circumstances are likely to be affected later in life by those background factors.

We could, however, look more closely at what happened to these different groups in adult life. And in doing so we could control for background factors such as country of birth, age, gender, and parental social class, qualifications, employment status and marital status.

We found the picture was a mixed one in which those from ethnic minorities did not consistently have worse care outcomes than those from White families.

These are our key findings:

  • There was a clear link between self-reported health issues and a history of social care for both the White and South Asian groups, but not for the Black group. When we looked at long-term and life-limiting illnesses, only the White social care group were more likely to suffer from these than peers who had been in parental care.
  • The level of qualifications among South Asian care leavers was significantly lower than for their peers, and there was also an effect, though smaller, for the White group, but Black care leavers had the same level of qualifications as their peers. Among the total population White people were most likely to have low levels of qualification, followed by Black people and then South Asian people.
  • Adult employment rates for those in parental care were highest for the White group, followed by the Black and South Asian groups. But the employment rate for Black people was not affected by care experience, and for South Asians there was only a small difference.
  • The social class of care-experienced White and South Asian adults was lower than that of their peers, though the impact was greater for White people. Black care leavers’ social class was no different from their peers. Overall, South Asians had the highest probability of being in professional or managerial jobs.
  • Home ownership was lower among White people who had been in social care, but this was less so for South Asians and did not apply to the Black group.
  • Care-experienced White adults were less likely to marry than their peers, but the reverse was true for the Black and South Asian groups.
  • Teenage motherhood was more common among Whites and South Asians who had been in social care, but it was less common in the Black group.

Mixed picture

What can we conclude from this mixed picture? Certainly we can say that inequalities between care leavers and the general population are widespread and long-lasting, and that this should be monitored and acted on as a priority.

But given the evidence that White care leavers are equally or more disadvantaged in some respects, new and existing policies promoting better outcomes for care-experienced adults should be universally provided for all children who have been in social care rather than being targeted at specific minority ethnic groups.

We also believe there is a need for qualitative research into this field, in order to unpick the different factors which may be impacting different ethnic groups.

Key messages from this research:

  • Ethnicity moderated the impact of social care mainly for socio-economic outcomes and their long-term effects
  • South Asian individuals fared better than Black people if they had been in social care
  • A history of social care affected White adults more than Black or South Asian care-experienced adults

Sacker, A., E.T. Murray, B. Maughan, and R.E. Lacey, Social care in childhood and adult outcomes: double whammy for minority children? Longitudinal and Life Course Studies

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