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Empowering looked after children and young people to take control of their health

How one former care leaver is trying to help children and young people in similar situations navigate the healthcare system.
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How one former care leaver is trying to help children and young people in similar situations navigate the healthcare system.

My early childhood was not a positive one. I was physically and emotionally abused, and neglected. Fortunately, when I was seven, the police arrived and took me for a medical assessment and it was confirmed that I had non-accidental injuries. As a result, I was taken into emergency foster care.

Being in care meant that I was taken for annual health assessments. I did not enjoy these appointments (Kelly 2016) none of my friends had to have them and I could not understand why I did. So, at the age of

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How one former care leaver is trying to help children and young people in similar situations navigate the healthcare system.

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Looked after children have made collages to represent their healthcare experiences

My early childhood was not a positive one. I was physically and emotionally abused, and neglected. Fortunately, when I was seven, the police arrived and took me for a medical assessment and it was confirmed that I had non-accidental injuries. As a result, I was taken into emergency foster care.

Being in care meant that I was taken for annual health assessments. I did not enjoy these appointments (Kelly 2016) – none of my friends had to have them and I could not understand why I did. So, at the age of 12, I refused to go.

During my teenage years I self-harmed and had suicidal thoughts. If I had still been attending my health assessments, I probably would have received the help and support I needed. When I reflect on this period, I recognise that I had avoidant attachment behaviours: I would avoid talking to adults and would hide my feelings. I rarely cried in front of anyone and always told people I was fine even when I was not.

As I did not display aggressive or challenging behaviour, I slipped under the radar. But I had a close relationship with my little sister, who had complex health needs and disabilities, and this made me determined to go to university so that I could give her a good life. However, during my undergraduate degree I became unwell and had difficulty navigating the healthcare system.

Luckily, the designated nurse for looked after children agreed to help me, even though she was not commissioned to help care leavers. My neurologist commented that I should look after my own health and not rely on the nurse, who was acting as my corporate parent, but she was my life-safer. I may not have graduated without my diagnosis and medication to control my symptoms.

Enthusiasm

It was then that my enthusiasm for improving the health outcomes of children in care and care leavers began. Many care leavers experience a deterioration in their health when they become independent and, like me, have difficulty trusting health professionals and navigating the healthcare system (Dixon 2008, Schneider et al 2009).

I am now in the final months of a PhD funded by the Wellcome Trust, which involves exploring the health beliefs and experiences of young people aged 11-18. As part of the research I give young people a camera and ask them to take pictures of things that represent their health or health experiences. We then print their pictures and they describe the images and use them to make a collage of a life-size human body to represents themselves.

I explain to them that their collage is part of their voice. They know that, when I present the results of my project I will take their artwork with me, so they write down messages for professionals. When I complete my research I and my advisory panel, which is made up of young people who are or have been in care, will develop recommendations for policymakers, and health and social care providers.

I hope these recommendations will equip professionals with the knowledge they need to promote looked after children’s engagement with the healthcare system and empower them to take control of their own health.

References

  • Kelly A (2016) Growing up in care. BMJ. www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.i1085
  • Dixon J (2008) Young people leaving care: health, well-being and outcomes. Child & Family Social Work. 13, 2, 207-217.
  • Schneider R (2009) What happens to youth removed from parental care? Health and economic outcomes for women with a history of out-of-home placement. Children and Youth Services Review. 31, 4, 440-444.

About the author

AineRoseKelly

Áine Rose Kelly is a care leaver and DPhil student based at the Rees Centre for Research on Fostering and Education, Department of Education, University of Oxford. Her research is funded by the Wellcome Trust

 

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