Ulster research highlights high risk behaviour in children’s homes

Children in residential care homes face a bleak future because of a culture of high risk behaviour and low expectations, according to new research by healthcare experts at the University of Ulster. The study found that children and teenagers living in residential care were more likely to drink alcohol, become sexually aware and attempt suicide than those living in foster homes.

The findings were based on a survey of 165 children, aged between 10 and 15, who were either living in state residential care or foster care in Northern Ireland. Social workers were also interviewed and completed questionnaires which identified the young people’s strengths and difficulties.

Dr Wendy Cousins from the University’s Nursing Research Institute in Coleraine led the project alongside Dr Sharon Milner and Dr Laurence Taggart. The findings were presented at the British Psychological Society Annual conference in Brighton this week.

Dr Taggart said: “We discovered a high level of emotional and behavioural difficulties in the children, particularly those living in residential state care where young people were more likely to drink alcohol, use solvents or display sexualised behaviour than those in foster care. We also discovered that over the course of one year, 10 of the 165 children had attempted suicide and 14 self-harmed regularly.”

Dr Cousins added: “The United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that young people living in state care are entitled to special protection but these worrying findings show that these young people are not faring well, emotionally or behaviourally. 

“However, the residential setting also gives caregivers the opportunities to help. This group of young people have significant contact with health and social services so we should make the most of these opportunities to provide the targeted psychological support that these vulnerable young people evidently need.”

The British Psychological Society Annual Conference is taking place at the Holiday Inn in Brighton this week.

For further information contact www.bps.org.uk/ac2009