EPDF and EPUB available Open Access under CC-BY-NC licence. Based on groundbreaking original research, this book provides a comprehensive account of the issues surrounding pregnancy and parenthood for young people in and leaving care.
Featuring the voices of care-experienced parents, together with reflections from practitioners, it offers valuable insights into the issues facing this group. Using qualitative data to explore why parenthood is such an important issue for young people in and leaving care, this book shows what can be learned from their experiences in order to improve outcomes for parents and children in the future.
The author highlights the practical and emotional needs of care-experienced parents and gives clear advice for practitioners on how these needs might be better addressed through summary points, practice guidance and recommendations for policy and practice.
This book was intended to provide a holistic consideration of pregnancy and parenthood for young people in and leaving care. The preceding chapters have provided evidence of outcomes, considered available support and offered insight into the perspectives of parents and professionals. In accordance with the initial aims, the book has shone a light on this important but neglected area of practice, provided a platform for parents’ views and perspectives, and considered how their experiences are both shaped and influenced by their care status. This final chapter draws together key findings from the Voices research and revisits recurring questions and concerns discussed at the outset. In seeking to fulfil the final aim of the book to be a resource for policy and practice professionals, the chapter offers a series of recommendations, co-produced with young people, parents and professionals. The chapter concludes with a section written by a member of the parents’ advisory group, who offers a final plea for meaningful policy and practice change.
This chapter considers sexual health outcomes and risk of early pregnancy for young people in and leaving care. At the outset of the Voices study, the intention was to focus only on early parenthood for care-experienced young people. Yet in order to fully consider these issues in relation to parenting, it is important to understand the context in which young people become parents. This includes considering both if and why young people in and leaving care face increased risk of early pregnancy and parenthood.
Research evidence has long shown young people who have lived in foster care, residential care and kinship care to be more likely to become young parents than those who have not (Svoboda 2012). Although research studies vary in terms of scope and size, Fallon and Broadhurst’s (2015: 11) evidence review concluded that ‘the weight of available international evidence suggests that children in or in the process of leaving care are at elevated risk of teenage pregnancy and early transition to parenthood’. Examples of such evidence include studies from Australia (Cashmore and Paxman 1996, 2007; Lima et al 2019), Canada (Turpel-Lafond and Kendall 2009), Spain (Del Valle et al 2008; Roca et al 2009), Sweden (Vinnerljung and Sallnäs 2008), the United States (US) (Oshima et al 2013; King et al 2014) as well as a comparative study of Germany, Finland and Great Britain (Cameron et al 2018).
This chapter is dedicated to the perspectives of care-experienced parents. As experts in their own lives, the participation of parents in and leaving care enabled invaluable insights into the experience and impact of parenthood on their lives. The reflections of parents provide further contextual detail to help consider issues of early pregnancy and parenthood (discussed in Chapter 2) as well as risks of state intervention and separation for children born to parents in and leaving care (discussed in Chapters 3 and 4). Parents’ reflections provide a helpful source for contrast and comparison with professional perspectives, and offer an important foundational base from which to consider issues of support in the next chapter.
Previous research has highlighted the potential for early pregnancy and parenthood to be viewed as a positive aspiration and choice by young people in and leaving care. For example, Biehal and Wade (1996) noted positive connotations related to parenting identity and suggested that becoming a parent offered a sense of belonging, stability and hope for the future. Similar claims were made by Haydon (2003), who noted the potential for parenthood to provide a socially acceptable role. Accordingly, pregnancy and parenthood may be considered ‘a force for good’ (Mantovani and Thomas, 2014), and be a source of motivation or ‘turning point’ for positive change (Barn and Mantovani 2007; Haight et al 2009). Aparicio (2015) noted that parents were motivated to keep children out of the care system and to parent differently – better than they had been.
For all parents, regardless of age or care experience, the onset of parenthood can be a time of hope and excitement, but it can also induce anxieties, present challenges and prompt changes. Practical issues associated with having a baby need to be considered, such as the impact on work or education routines, finances, living arrangements, as well as acquiring the necessary baby-related equipment, furniture and clothing and adhering to the comprehensive schedules of antenatal health appointments and checks. In addition to pragmatic considerations, individuals or couples may need to emotionally adapt to the prospect of parenthood, mentally adjusting to changes in relationships, identity, responsibility and priorities. For many, this exciting yet simultaneously terrifying journey will be made easier with the support and reassurance of family and friends.
The idea for this research study came from young people and adults involved with Voices from Care Cymru (VfCC), ‘a national, independent, Welsh organisation, dedicated to upholding the rights and welfare of care experienced children and young people’ (vfcc.org.uk). Over time, individuals connected to VfCC had become concerned about the experiences and support available to young people in and leaving care when they became parents.
This chapter is concerned with outcomes for young parents in and leaving care. While the increased risk of early pregnancy for young people in and leaving care has been repeatedly evidenced in previous research (James et al 2009), less attention has focused on what happens after young people become parents. This chapter will detail contributions made to this underdeveloped evidence base over the course of the Voices research. The chapter will examine outcomes for parents in and leaving care, and consider whether parents are at increased risk of experiencing compulsory Children’s Services intervention and/or separation from their children.
Official statistics in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, currently provide no information with respect to parents in and leaving care (respectively: Information Analysis Directorate 2018; Scottish Government 2018; StatsWales 2018). In England, the annual statistical release reports the number of mothers in care (under the age of 18), a figure which has remained relatively stable at 2 per cent in recent years (Department for Education 2018b). While the availability of such information is helpful when considered against the absence of any details from other UK countries, the English data nevertheless provides limited insights.
This chapter returns to the perspectives of professionals and examines their views and experiences in regards to supporting young people in and leaving care who are parents. Although this book will repeatedly argue that corporate parenting responsibilities are not solely the responsibility of social services, professionals with day-to-day responsibilities for engaging with young people in and leaving care come closest to embodying the corporate parent (Rutman et al 2002). They are also uniquely placed to reflect on the range of needs and experiences of care-experienced parents, as well as providing valuable insight into system responses and support availability. As such, their perspectives offer important contextual detail from which to consider the increased risk of social work intervention and separation for children born to parents in and leaving care.
Previous research with care-experienced parents has typically provided a damning assessment of professional intervention and support. Mantovani and Thomas (2014) noted the potential for parents to face a ‘presumed incompetency’ with respect to their ability to be parents, while Knight et al’s (2006) findings suggested assessments of parents could vary according to the individual social worker and team.
This chapter is concerned with support for parents in and leaving care. This includes consideration of how support needs are understood, how they are responded to, and the extent to which support responses are considered appropriate and effective. The chapter brings together the perspectives of leaving-care professionals, who oversee the support for young people leaving care, with the reflections of parents who have personal experience of needing and receiving support. The chapter provides further context for understanding outcomes for parents in and leaving care, and prompts consideration of the adequacy, sustainability and acceptability of state responses and support.
All parents, regardless of age and care experience, will likely need or benefit from help with parenting. This may include a range of practical, emotional and financial support, predominantly provided by partners, family and friends, but also via professionals and locally available groups and services. As illustrated in models showing a continuum of support (Welsh Government 2017) and tiers of service provision (Social Care Institute for Excellence 2012), professional intervention can encompass a range of involvement; including universally available support, targeted provision to address specific or lower level needs, intensive support services to address multiple and more complex needs, as well as specialist interventions to address severe and acute needs. The level of intervention required is likely to be influenced by both parent and child factors. For example, parental factors such as age and care experience have the potential to impact on both support needs and availability.
This chapter discusses how children's participation in child protection remains a contested practice. The term 'contested practice' here refers to a set of social practices related to children's participation in decision-making occurring in child protection, including decisions about children's removal from home into foster or residential care, out-of-home placements, contact with parents and siblings while in care, and decisions related to family reunification. The chapter starts by describing how children experience participation in different child protection systems in Norway, the United States, and other countries. It then focuses on the barriers to children's participation in child protection, especially the role that child protection workers play in creating participation barriers. The chapter shows that child protection workers' lack of availability, skills, training and a respectful rapport with children present participation barriers. Workers' protective attitudes and safety concerns in high-risk case contexts prevent children's participation too.
This chapter analyses when and how child protection caseworkers reported doing participation in their everyday practice. The term 'doing participation' refers to the range of possible participation, from minimal participation by listening to a child's opinions and reflections without taking them into consideration to promoting genuine participation in decision-making. The chapter examines to what degree the study participants facilitated genuine participation, defined as children's opinions being heard and weighed in decision-making. The study participants discussed included the removal of children from home, support services, foster care placements, and children's contact with their parent(s) while in care. There are three ways in which the study participants reported doing participation: giving information, facilitating participation, and gathering information. Almost half of the total sample reported facilitating children's genuine participation.