Social work ‘makes difference’ to lives of male care leavers

Teenage boys
Picture credit: OJO Images/Rex Features

Social work makes a “measurable difference” to the lives of young men who have been in care, compared with the “neglect” suffered by those permanently excluded from school who had no statutory support, academics have claimed.

Young men aged 16-24 who have been permanently excluded from school (PEFS) are more likely to commit serious crime, especially involving violence, than those who have been in care, according to the study from Bournemouth University’s School of Health & Social Care.

PEFS were more than 1,670 times as likely as youths in the general population (YGP) to be murderers.

Higher suicide rates

There were no murders or suicides among the 438 former looked-after young men in the study, while the suicide rate among the 215 PEFS was 133 times that of YGP.

But former looked-after men were more likely than PEFS and YGP to be murdered, which the researchers attributed to housing and accommodation problems.

The report by Professor Colin Pritchard and senior lecturer Richard Williams examined five-year cohorts of PEFS and former looked-after children in one local authority up to 2003. Around 10% of the young men were part of both groups.

Children in care typically compared with general population

Professor Pritchard said most research compared outcomes for looked-after children with those in the general population who came from an ordinary background, but in this study they were measured against young men facing similar disadvantages.

While the research highlighted the value of social work to looked-after young men, he said the government must improve support for PEFS. “When children are excluded they get the minimum feasible response. As soon as they reach the end of compulsory education everybody drops them. Successive governments have done things on the cheap and not looked at the real costs of damaged youngsters.”

‘Crime, drugs, sex working or benefit dependency’

He also said PEFS were “virtually unemployable, and perhaps their only alternative market response is that of crime, drugs, sex working or becoming benefit dependent”.

He added: “We are not saying one should never exclude troubled and troublesome youngsters from school, but we can’t just leave them.”

The research was published in the Journal of Social Work.

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