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Educational trajectories for residential care experienced young people are complex. A lived experience perspective from a PhD study in Scotland

Ruby Valerie Whitelaw ( Department of Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 30 April 2024




Research highlights that residential care experienced children and young people in Scotland have poorer educational outcomes than their peers within the wider population. Despite this, poor educational attainment is not inevitable, and further research is needed to increase the understanding of long-term trajectories. This paper aims to address a gap in contemporary literature that is of benefit to practitioners, academics and policymakers. Despite experiencing adversity, attachment, separation and loss, school attainment data on leaving care only reflects part of the educational journey.


Using a mixed methodology and social constructionist theoretical framework, a practitioner-led PhD study gathered data from questionnaires and qualitative information from 13 semi-structured interviews with young people who had experienced residential care in Scotland. Recruitment was through a gatekeeper within a national third-sector organisation. The educational trajectories for young people with experience of residential care in Scotland are complex. A lived experience perspective from a PhD study illustrates that statistical data only captures part of the journey and the author needs to reconsider how success is measured.


Of the 13 participants in the study, 12 achieved success educationally, although for the majority of those interviewed, attainment continued after leaving compulsory education. Barriers to greater success included placement uncertainty and movement, stigma, low expectations, pressure to not become a statistic, procedural obstacles and inconsistency or poor relationships.

Research limitations/implications

Supportive relationships and stable placements can create circumstances conducive to effective learning, but evidence reflects that support is necessary throughout the life course if children, young people and adults with care experience are to reach their full academic potential.


Research into the educational outcomes for those with experience of residential care in Scotland is limited. This paper, from a PhD, provides lived experience accounts from a practitioner-led study.



This research received no external funding.

The author would like to thank the young people for their honesty and contribution and the gatekeeper who facilitated access. Without them both this article would not have been possible.


Whitelaw, R.V. (2024), "Educational trajectories for residential care experienced young people are complex. A lived experience perspective from a PhD study in Scotland", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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