Children and young people who grow up in care are up to four times more likely to suffer from poor health later on in life than those who grew up with their parents, a new study has found.
The joint study by researchers from UCL and King’s College, London shows those who were raised by someone other than their parents were more likely to report their health as poor well into adulthood.
Academics in the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies at UCL analysed data from 350,000 people to explore whether looked-after children fared better or worse if they spent time in residential care compared with living in foster care, or with relatives.
The study shows adults who grew up in any type of care setting had worse self-rated health – an indicator of physical and mental health problems – 10, 20 and 30 years later than those who lived with their parents.
The team said the results highlight the need to expand mental health support beyond young adulthood and that more help is needed for relatives who care for children informally and often go ‘under the radar’.
Adults who lived in residential care during childhood had a 40% chance of reporting poor health 10 years later. This rose to an 85% chance over the following two decades.
The chances were much lower for those who grew up with a relative, with the probability ranging from 21% to 43% over the 30-year period.
By contrast, adults who grew up with their parents only had a 13% chance of reporting poor health after 10 years, rising to 21% at the later checkpoints.
‘More must be done to close the inequality gap between those who spend time in care and those who do not, particularly as the impact of COVID starts to be felt,’ said Professor Amanda Sacker (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health), who led the study.
‘We’re seeing the same differences in rates of poor health among people that have survived to their 40s as people in their 20s. The effects are not wearing off – and we suspect these are more likely to be mental health problems than physical.
‘Support is available for mental health during the transition into adulthood but there’s nothing later on in life. I would like the support to last for longer. There are opportunities to turn things around – people just need a little bit of help to do this,’ added the Professor.
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