Young Essex researchers sent to Finland on care leaver assignment

Five Essex children in care were trained as researchers to take part in a study comparing the experiences of UK care leavers with those in Finland

Provider: Essex County Council

Name: Care leaver research project

Essex County Council was invited by Anglia Ruskin University to participate in a comparative peer research study exploring the experiences of care leavers in Finland and the UK. The lead researcher, Maritta Torronen, a professor at the University of Helsinki, was awarded a scholarship and funding from the European Union to undertake the research, and five members of the Essex Children in Care Council received intensive training to become skilled researchers.

The group worked intensively to deliver 24 peer-on-peer interviews with care leavers across the county, exploring what support they receive and goals and hopes for the future.

From the outset, the young people expressed a desire to explore how the experiences of care leavers in Finland differ to their own. The total cost for flights and accommodation for the five young people and three staff was £4,344, of which the young people raised £2,350 through sponsored activities including an abseil from the top of the council's offices.

In late 2016, the team flew to Finland to visit the SOS Children's Village in Tapiola, a not-for-profit organisation providing homes for nine families, a community centre, independent living apartments and a family contact centre. Key features include:

  • Children stay with SOS parents who act as care givers
  • Sibling groups are kept together wherever possible
  • Overnight accommodation is available for birth parents to visit
  • Children remain in their homes even when SOS parents retire or leave
  • Independent living apartments help young people transition to independence
  • In March, the young people came together to analyse the transcribed interviews with care leavers. Issues Essex young people in care talked about included:
  • Accommodation - a lack of choice, quality and affordability
  • Finances - the challenges of budgeting, and concerns about debt
  • Feeling isolated - not being close to family or friends or being supported to see them
  • Wellbeing - emotional and mental health needs not being met
  • Stability - the overarching importance of having stability and security.

The information gathered by the young people was incorporated into an academic paper Torronen wrote for a Finnish social work journal, but it is also hoped that the evidence will help improve services and support for children in care in Essex.

The young researchers have met with council directors to discuss their learning from the visit to Finland and are planning an event to share key findings from the research in November 2017. This will include exploring how the feedback could influence practice and provide learning in Essex, to improve young people's outcomes.

Our Views: Young people on the experience

"Being a peer researcher has meant that I have had many new and exciting things to do and learn about. If there's a chance of making leaving care easier, I knew I wanted to be a part of it."

"I think young people find it easier to speak to other young people."

"It was such an amazing experience; it was nothing like I thought it would be. At first I was getting quite defensive, but I didn't expect it to be so different."

"I've learned a lot from the SOS Village, but also about myself and the people I went with. I have learned skills to help me deal with how I panic. It made me want to do something with my life."

More information from Chrissie Gavriel

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