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Support, Friendship, Love and Care: A Recipe for Looking After Children and Young People in Northern Ireland

Resource type: Research Report

VOYPIC Policy and Research |

Children and young people in foster, residential and other types of care in Northern Ireland expressed their feelings about the best and the worst of their experiences in a first-of-its-kind survey conducted by VOYPIC. In 2011, the organisation launched a computer-based survey to collect the views and experiences of looked after children and young people. The results paint a positive picture of the well-being of children in care but also suggest a need for more involvement by young people in planning for their care and independence.

VOYPIC, an Atlantic grantee, works across Northern Ireland to promote the rights of children and young people cared for away from home. It was established as the Voice of Young People in Care in 1993 by young people and practitioners.

“I feel like most people in care don’t have a voice, especially if they are under 18 and it’s not fair. If they had more say in what decisions are being made or what is happening then they would be happier.”
– Young person in care

The Situation

More than 2,500 children and young people are in care in Northern Ireland, but the voice of these children is rarely heard when it comes to how they feel about the care and services they receive.

An online tool is helping make sure that young people have a say in advancing their rights. VOYPIC uses a computer-assisted survey to ensure that looked after children and young people can express their views and experiences about the care system. The survey asks children age-appropriate questions about quality of care, safety and stability, key relationships, and their education and future planning.

While computer-assisted surveys are common in large research studies, it is much rarer for them to be employed to capture the voices of young people in care. Such a survey allows young people to express their views without speaking with a surveyor and thus can be an unvarnished reflection of their circumstances.

The Work

The Atlantic Philanthropies co-funded the survey along with the government’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. By asking children and young people in care to share their views and experiences, the feedback can help encourage everyone working in support of children and young people to listen and learn, to change what needs to be changed, and to do more of what’s working well.

Hear directly from some young people who completed the survey.

The Findings

A total of 121 children and young people aged 8 to 18 participated in the 2011 survey. An April 2012 report of the findings shows a positive picture in the areas that are most important for children and young people experiencing care. For example:

  • 80 per cent of respondents said they felt safe in their placement and 72 percent felt settled there.
  • 79 per cent reported not being bullied at school, while 74 per cent felt safe in their neighbourhood.
  • 88 per cent were in school, college or training. Compared to the general population, young people in care are far more likely to leave school with no qualifications. With this in mind, the finding was reassuring.

The main concerns expressed by participants were familiar ones and suggest a need for closer attention to policy, procedure and practice. They include:

  • Need for regular contact with family and friends
  • Desire for a placement that is close to their family and with supportive adults
  • Frustration with negative stereotypes about children in care
  • Worry about their health
  • Hunger for more information about and participation in their care plan
  • Desire to be listened to and have a voice in decisions that affect them.

“One of my key aims regarding children and young people in care is to ensure that they are involved every step of the way…This survey is a useful addition to achieving that aim as it provides up-to-date information that comes directly from the children and young people who are experiencing life in the care system.”
– Minister for Health Edwin Poots, MLA

Next Steps

VOYPIC has shared this report with policymakers and is actively pursuing other avenues to make sure that government officials take into account the views of young people in care.

For example, VOYPIC is working to ensure the development of Children in Care Councils which represent the views of children and young people in care. These councils are popular in England but so far none has been established in Northern Ireland.

In 2013, VOYPIC was completing a report on a second survey taken in 2012 to help further develop the organisation’s understanding and conclusions on the needs of children in care. Findings were similar to the first survey. VOYPIC hopes to make this survey a regular event to help ensure that children and young people are part of decision making about their lives.

Learn More

> Report: Care Matters in Northern Ireland: A Bridge to a Better Future

Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) is an Atlantic grantee. 

Related Resources


Children & Youth

Global Impact:

Northern Ireland


foster care, Voice of Young People in Care, VOYPIC