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Care leavers’ transition into the labour market in England

Project overview

This study will investigate the predictors of care leavers’ educational and employment outcomes at age 21 and explore care leavers’ perspectives on the barriers and facilitators to participating in education, employment and training.

Government statistics show that care leavers are three times more likely not to be in education, employment or training (NEET) than other young people. In 2017, 40% of care leavers aged 19-21 were NEET, compared to 13% of that age group in the general population. This has been associated with negative long-term consequences, including higher rates of homelessness, mental health problems and imprisonment.

Researchers will conduct quantitative analysis on 7,300 young care leavers who became 21 in 2016/17, using newly available education datasets. Analysis will focus on comparing three groups of young people from the same birth cohort:

  • Those who fell just short of qualifying as ‘care leavers’
  • Those identified as ‘children in need’ (i.e. recorded as requiring services/support following a social care assessment or because of a disability) at 15-16
  • Those not in care or identified as ‘children in need’ at 15-16.

Three pairs of local authorities will be selected for a more in-depth exploration around different approaches to supporting care leavers’ transitions from compulsory education. The perspectives of care leavers, young people and key people in their lives including foster carers and a range of professionals from local authorities, education and employment sectors will also be gathered through interviews and focus groups.

Project findings will help policy makers, potential employers and practitioners better understand:

  • The impact of relevant recent policy reforms and national schemes on care leavers’ employment prospects, including apprenticeship bursaries
  • The processes that lead to care leavers becoming NEET
  • The role children’s and care leaving services have in promoting the integration of care leavers into the labour market.

The project aims to highlight practice that could increase the percentage of care leavers in employment, while also informing recommendations for further research on post-16 trajectories of care leavers and other disadvantaged groups.


  • Dr Neil Harrison
    University of Oxford
  • Jo Dixon
    University of York

  • Cheryl Lloyd
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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