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Whatever Next? Young Disabled People Leaving Care

Dr Mark Priestley and Dr Parvaneh Rabiee

A one-year action research project with First Key (the national leaving care advisory service), funded by a grant from the National Lottery Charities Board (award number RB217887) with co-funding from an ESRC fellowship award.

Copies of the final report can be obtained from First Key at Oxford Chambers, Oxford Place, Leeds, LS1 3AX, UK

The research findings were launched at a national event in April 2001, hosted by First Key in Coventry.


This project was initiated by First Key (the national leaving care advisory service) and the Disability Research Unit. Our research takes place in the Bradford area, with the active co-operation of Bradford Social Services Department. The purpose of the research is to develop guidelines for good practice in supporting young disabled people leaving care, by involving them in a local project to research their own experiences. This is a short, targeted piece of policy research, focused on a single local authority area. Its primary benefits will be to highlight specific examples of local good practice and to promote tangible policy outcomes more widely (in the longer term). Our ultimate aim is to contribute to improved life opportunities for young disabled people leaving care throughout the UK.

The project team is: Dr Parvaneh Rabiee (project research fellow); Sheila McMahon (clerical support worker); Julie Knowles (professional advisor, based at First Key); Dr Mark Priestley (principal researcher).

Project documents available on-line

Other Project Publications

Mark Priestley (1999) 'Left out in the cold', Community Care, 11-17 November 1999, p29

Julie Knowles (2000) 'Whatever Next?', Key Notes, June 2000 (published by First Key)

Parvaneh Rabiee (2000) 'Mind the gap!', Community Care, 8-14 June 2000, p29


Section 24 of the 1989 Children Act details the responsibilities and discretionary powers of local authorities in providing support to young people who have been 'looked after' on or after their sixteenth birthday. These include helping them to prepare for adulthood and independence, providing information and enabling them to participate in decisions which affect their future lives.

The importance of the transition from care is also highlighted in the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act and the 1986 Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act. The significance of involving young people in decisions that affect their lives is further emphasised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (in particular, Articles 12 and 23).

In 1999, the government published its proposals for new arrangements to support care leavers in England and Wales. The implications of these reforms, in the Children (Leaving Care) Act, are a key factor in our analysis and we will pay particular attention to policy developments in this area during the project.

Policy Implications

It was an important part of our project to publicise and disseminate relevant policy information about the situation of disabled young people leaving care. As part of that process, we have also attempted to provide comprehensive access to the policy debate about provision for care leavers.

The timing of our research project (October 1999 - September 2000) coincided directly with national policy debate about provision for care leavers, and specifically with the passage of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill.

Other relevant Bills (July 2000) included:

  • The Carers and Disabled Children Bill, which aims to ensure that the needs of carers are assessed, that services are provided for them, and that payments can be made to carers and disabled children aged 16 and 17 in lieu of services.
  • The Care Standards Bill, which will establish national standards and a new General Social Care Council. There will be a Commission to regulate standars in residential homes and other care agencies.


Up to the end of 1999, we were working on our review of existing data and research. We then used demographic information and local contacts to target a sample of 30 young disabled people (between the ages of 14 and 25). From these people, we later recruited a small steering group to give their views on the project - including its analysis and dissemination. In choosing our methods we have tried to engage young disabled people as active participants in the research process.

More details about the population of young disabled people and our sampling strategy are available in a separate document.

The primary mechanism of data collection was individual 'interviews', although, some young people have required considerable support by others to convey their views.

Our approach to data processing involved the transcription of tape recordings and notes and coding using qualitative data analysis software (QSR NVivo). We adopted a grounded theory approach to our analysis, basing our initial analytical categories on issues highlighted by young people involved with the project. These were developed in consultation with our steering group of care leavers and with local and national policy makers.