During the first national lockdown, NIHR Applied Research Collaborative Kent, Surrey and Sussex (ARC KSS) funded researchers at the University of Sussex and the Creative Research Collective to conduct rapid research into the impact of lockdown on care leavers and their support needs as lockdown eased.

The Beyond Lockdown research project included a national survey and Care Leaver Expert Working Groups across Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

In a national online survey, care leavers were asked about the impact of lockdown and their future support needs. This was followed by online workshops, where care leavers in the Kent Surrey and Sussex region reviewed the main points from the survey and used these, along with their own experiences and ideas, to co-produce key messages for both care leavers and also for services to enable them to provide effective support to care leavers during the pandemic.

Co-leading the research are Dr Helen Drew, University of Sussex and Valerie Dunn, Creative Research Collective. Helen explained:

“Even during the best of times, we know that many young people often leave the care system feeling unprepared, financially insecure, in poor mental health and without the support networks most of us take for granted. That’s why when the first lockdown began, we wanted to deepen our understanding about the impact the pandemic and lockdown was having on care leavers.

“Our research focussed on two key areas: the impact of the COVID crisis on care leavers’ mental health and daily functioning and the support care leavers want as lockdown ends.”

Preliminary key findings

The preliminary key findings from the research show how lockdown had a major effect on care leavers’ daily lives and well-being - affecting their mental health, sleep, and their financial and personal security.

More than three out of five (70%) care leavers reported a deterioration on their mental health during lockdown; some indicating clinical levels of depression (45%) and anxiety (43%) – and with female care leavers being the worst affected. In addition, more than three quarters (77%) of care leavers reported having trouble with their sleep.

Care leavers also told us how they struggled to get food and earn money. Around one in three (31%) found it more difficult or impossible to earn or receive benefits, while a quarter (23%) found it harder or impossible to pay their bills.

One in five care leavers (22%) did not feel safe where they were living. Around one third (31%) changed their accommodation during this time.

Over half (55%) often felt lonely during lockdown. Care leavers turned to their friends (55%) and personal advisers (48%) for help.


Messages and advice

To service providers and commissioners:

  • keep in regular contact to reassure care leavers that support is there ‘no matter what’
  • maintain face-to-face support where possible, but if that’s not possible, use video calls
  • enable care leavers to build independence
  • enhance practical support and training
  • be proactive and offer personalised, genuine support – rather than ‘tick box’ care.

To other care leavers:

  • ‘ask for help if you need it’
  • find/re-establish a routine
  • do things you enjoy and benefit you, like exercise, reading, keeping busy, getting outside
  • stay connected to trusted people
  • stay optimistic – things will get better.

Care leavers also suggested peer supporters could act as a bridge with services, help build confidence and help take the first steps to change.

Although mental health was identified as the primary support need for the end of lockdown, other areas where support was needed included: housing, finances, employment/education/training, reconnecting with others and support for independence.

Sharing preliminary findings and pledging change

The preliminary findings were presented by researchers and care leavers at an event held in November, which attracted more than 70 attendees including: local authorities, health, Department for Education, researchers, KSS Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), voluntary and community sector and care leavers.

Care leavers and local authority staff who had participated in the research presented at the event and discussed their personal experiences of lockdown.

Mark Riddell MBE, National Advisor for Care Leavers, Department for Education, also presented the national picture and the work being undertaken across different local authorities.

A care leaver who presented at the event said:

“The fact that our voice was heard through such an endeavour was outstanding.

“It was also great for care leavers to hear about the changes and plans set forward by the National Advisor for Care Leavers. But the biggest challenge was trying to get such a range of individuals together, and I feel this was done incredibly well, from health associates and researchers to local authorities. The ability to discuss across a range of people is definitely a step in the right direction for us all.”

Towards the end of the event, delegates were encouraged to pledge their commitments to change.

Becca Randell, NIHR ARC KSS, Starting Well: Children’s Mental Health Implementation Lead, who chaired the event, said:

“It was great to come together with a number of key stakeholders to share preliminary findings of this research. An impressive 35 pledges were made by our key partners to make changes and improvements in the way we work across the regions.

“We are currently planning a similar, follow-up event on 23rd February to help us monitor progress on how these pledges have been taken forward and how we can continue to work together to improve services for our care leavers.”

Find out more:

For further information on Beyond Lockdown Research or the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Care Leavers Wellbeing Pledges, please contact: Becca Randell, Starting Well Children’s Mental Health Implementation Lead, ARC (Kent, Surrey and Sussex): This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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