Introduction by Hannah Dodds:
I have sixteen years experience of working in children’s residential care in the UK and the USA. I have worked in various children’s social care settings and directly worked with children who have suffered neglectful and abusive early childhoods and ongoing placement breakdowns. My passion for working in this sector increased further when I became a registered manager and felt more could be done for our children. Consequently, I decided to go to Worcester University to study Clinical Psychology to gain more knowledge and skills. I decided to write my dissertation around children’s homes opening in communities, as I had read a lot of pushback against this. I wanted to highlight the current stigma towards children living in residential care and the risk this has to childhood psychopathology. Whilst being able to provide protective factors to help change outcomes.
Perceptions and Attitudes towards Children’s Residential Care Homes in the Community.
The term ‘stigma’ can be defined as a mark of shame or discredit against someone with a particular attribute or characteristic such as mental illness, disability, or a physical health condition (Santos, Barros, & Santos, 2016; Stone, & Kwan, 2016). There are multiple components within stigma, including structural stigma, self-stigma, and social stigma (Corrigan, Larson, & Rüsch, 2009; Hatzenbuehler, 2016; Kearns, Muldoon, Msetfi, & Surgenor, 2018; Maharjan, & Panthee, 2019). This study will focus upon social stigma, which describes a set of negative beliefs and attitudes that encourage individuals to avoid, reject and fear others (Bos, Pryor, Reeder, & Stutterheim, 2013; Manstead, 2018).
It is important to acknowledge the difference between stigma and prejudice, even though there are commonalities (Phelan, Link, & Dovidio, 2008; Stuber, Meyer, & Link, 2008). One main distinction is that stigma typically focuses on individual-level characteristics, such as mental illness (Ahmedani, 2011), compared with prejudice, which usually focuses on group level characteristics, such as race (Bobo, 1999). However, both work in similarity regarding the exposure to negative attitudes and the interpersonal experience of unfair treatment against individuals from a disadvantaged social group (Stuber, Meyer, & Link, 2008). Stigmatised groups within the United Kingdom (UK) have been found to include the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) community, Looked After Children (LAC) and individuals diagnosed with mental illness (Mannay et al., 2017; McCoy, 2020; Sartorius, 2013). One study investigating social stigma within England’s general population included the mental health campaign Time to Change (2015). The study surveyed 1,736 adults and found that stigmatised attitudes towards mental illness resulted in a third of the sample believing individuals with mental health conditions were likely to be violent (Time to Change, 2015). Furthermore, research has found stigmatised groups had implications for reduced economic opportunities, poorer interpersonal relationships, negative psychosocial consequences, and risk to individuals’ psychopathology (Kaushik, Kostaki, & Kyriakopoulos, 2016; Macedo, Silva, Fornelos, Figueiredo, & Nunes, 2017; Morin, Rivard, Crocker, Boursier, & Caron, 2013; Noble, Robinson, & Marson, 2016; Panza et al., 2019). This indicates that stigma is becoming a silent epidemic for stigmatised groups.
Looked After Children
Within the UK, LAC are placed into the local authority’s care, either voluntarily or through a court order, often due to abuse, family breakdowns or illness (Children Act 1989, 2017; Department for Education, 2019; NSPCC, 2020). According to the Department for Education (2019), as of March 2020, there are 75,370 LAC in the care system, which is an increase of 25% in the last decade, and still, numbers are rising. Internationally, it is challenging to establish exact figures due to weak administration records and monitoring systems (Langton, 1948; Petrowski, Cappa, & Gross, 2017), but research shows a rising trend regarding child protection issues (Unicef, 2020) and not just within the UK (Department for Education, 2019).
Social care statistics recorded that three-quarters of all children in care were placed into foster care (Department for Education, 2019). Foster care is a short or long-term placement where LAC live with ‘foster parents’ who care for a child’s day-to-day living (Department for Education, 2019). This differs from residential care, a form of group living provided by a team of trained professionals who provide therapeutic care (Department for Education, 2014).
Currently, children’s residential care offers 12,175 placements to some of the most vulnerable children in society (Department for Education, 2014; Gore, 2018). Research has found that LAC are at greater risk of childhood psychopathology than children in the general population (Ford, Vostanis, Meltzer, & Goodman, 2007; Simkiss, 2019; Wade, Fox, Zeanah, & Nelson, 2018). This was increased further when living in residential care, as higher rates of emotional and conduct disorder were found (Ford, Vostanis, Meltzer, & Goodman, 2007). Furthermore, the average age of children living in residential was 13.9 years, challenging for any adolescent regarding emotional development (Erikson, 1968; Ford, Vostanis, Meltzer, & Goodman, 2007). These characteristics, combined with the trauma children survived before being placed into the care system (Department for Education, 2019; NSPCC, 2020), can show a reason for exacerbated vulnerability.
Nevertheless, not all LAC fail to achieve their potential or suffer from psychopathology (Crittenden, 2017; Department for Education, 2019), as the interview with Become. (2017, p8) found:
I was a straight-A student whose teachers wanted me to go to do a law degree. My social worker told me that children in care don’t go to university and to stop encouraging me. I did go to law school though!
This proposes protective factors for LAC buoyancy in residential care, illustrating why this research is essential to understand how professionals perceive LAC in residential care.
Research exploring professionals’ perceptions of children’s residential care found this form of group living as a ‘last resort’ or ‘end of the line’ (Leloux-Opmeer, Kuiper, Steels, & Simpson, 2017; Swaab, & Scholte, 2016; Quiroga, Hamilton-Giachritsis, & Fanés, 2017). Furthermore, Kools (1997) identified terms such as ‘abnormal’ and ‘damaged’ being used by professionals to label these children further, thus producing negative bias by implying these children are the worst (Corns, 2018). This is an unfair form of labelling, considering Ofsted rated over three-quarters of children’s homes as either ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ regarding young people’s outcomes (Department for Education, 2019).
The labelling theory derived in the 1960s proposed that an individual’s behaviour was significantly influenced by what society thought of them through the labels fashioned onto individuals or groups (Becker, & Keller, 2016; Becker & Shaw, 1966). Research often focused on the implication of labelling within a criminology context, suggesting that creating a label of ‘deviant’ results in the promotion of deviant behaviours through an individual’s self-concept (Barmaki, 2019; Kroska, Lee, & Carr, 2017; Levey, Garandeau, Meeus, & Branje, 2019). This suggests that individuals absorb societies’ perceptions and attitudes and, in turn, are allocated to the blueprint of how individuals perceive themselves (Feinstein, 2015), thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. This illustrates the harm caused when professionals use language to refer to a child as ‘abnormal’ or ‘damaged’ (Leloux-Opmeer, Kuiper, Swaab, & Scholte, 2016; Quiroga, Hamilton-Giachritsis, & Fanés, 2017). Furthermore, it questions whether these professional perceptions and attitudes transpire to the general population’s view, as no research has been found investigating this.
Whilst no research has been found regarding the general population’s perceptions of children in care, consideration should be given to media coverage and social media platforms which often encourage negative perceptions of individuals and social groups (Maiorano et al., 2017; Siddiqui & Singh, 2016). For instance, the research uncovered an increase in negative connotations towards young people via phrases such as ‘troublesome teens’ and ‘young people these days’ (Taylor, Kelly, & Salvatore, 2010; Trzesniewski, & Donnellan, 2014), therefore creating negative bias (Landy et al., 2018). Furthermore, studies exploring stigmatised youth groups found that children in the care system were at particular risk (Axford, 2008; Paget et al., 2018; Townsend, Salemink, & Wallace, 2018;2020;). It can be argued that this is due to the unfair portrayal of children’s programmes such as Tracey Beakers ‘Dumping Ground’, based on children living in residential care, which leaves a negative perception of residential care from the title alone (Become, 2017).
However, protective factors can reduce the risk to an individual’s psychopathology (Become., 2017; Department for Education, 2019; Gambaro et al., 2020). Studies researching protective factors found that positive interpersonal relationships, coping strategies and the environment surrounding an individual allowed resilience to be developed (Albott, Forbes, & Anker, 2018; Compas et al., 2017; Coughlan et al., 2020; Masten, 2001; McLaughlin, & Lambert, 2017). Resilience is a process that enables an individual to adapt to adverse life experiences and to overcome the challenges faced and become stronger for them (Guimarães, 2018; Oshio, Taku, Hirano, & Saeed, 2018). Research has shown that childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse, exposure to interpersonal violence and severe injury provides an elevated risk to a child’s psychopathology (Koenen et al., 2017; McLaughlin & Lambert, 2017). Regrettably, most LAC have often suffered from multiple forms of traumas throughout their young lives (Children Act 1989, 2017; Department for Education, 2019), which is a risk factor for the development of resilience.
A study by Greenberg (2006) identified three comprehensive protective factors within resilience to allow for its development, including cognitive ability, the quality of interpersonal relationships and broader environmental factors, such as safe communities in which people live. According to research, a safe community provides understanding for community vulnerabilities, promotes equality and well-being, and encourages connection with the individuals around them (Health, 2013). The wider community is of particular importance in this research, as statistics have shown a 7% increase in children’s homes opening within England (Department for Education, 2019), including a particular focus on small middle-class communities to reduce inner-city risks such as gang violence and drug-related issues (McDaniel, 2012). No studies have been found to investigate these communities; however, newspaper articles were, including headlines from the Evesham Journal (2017, p1) “Villagers anger at plans for children’s home in Bricklehamptom, near Elmley Castle”. Furthermore, an extract from the Blackpool Gazette (2020, p1) “Anger mounts as Blackpool children’s home plans set to go before council’– Neighbours say they are standing up for residents across Blackpool by fighting plans to open a children’s home on their road.” These headlines suggest that children’s homes opening within communities are faced with adverse challenges by the local population. However, this could also be media-led bias, as previously suggested (Ardèvol-Abreu, & Gil de Zúñiga, 2017).
It is also important to consider demographic differences within these communities, such as gender, income, and age (Cheeta et al., 2018; Demant, Hides, White, & Kavanagh, 2018; Forgas, & O’Driscoll,1984; Schneider, 2008), all of which have been found to impact individuals’ perceptions of others. Often the middle-class communities where children’s homes reside result in the population being older, potentially due to being financially more stable and able to afford the higher house prices within these locations/areas (Department of Education, 2019; Hwang, Parrott, & Brossoie, 2019; Li, Young, & Jian, 2018). Research exploring older adults’ (50+ years) attitudes towards young people was overall positive; however, results did find that older adults had increased expectations of socioeconomic outcomes for young people such as well-paid jobs (Cybulski et al., 2013; Yue & Ng, 1999). However, the studies were international in origin, suggesting cultural bias (Maldonado, 2017), particularly within individual age groups’ cultural expectations.
In comparison, a study reviewing young people’s views and perceptions of other young people found that views changed dependent on the social class they were raised in (van de Beek et al., 2017). Smith et al. (2016) investigated gender differences in adolescents’ attitudes and perspectives towards disadvantaged groups found that girls (aged 15-18 years) generally reported more positive attitudes to disadvantaged groups than boys (aged 15-18 years). Similarly, girls’ perspective-taking abilities were also higher than boys, but boys increased over time, whereas girls did not. However, notably, the study proposed that positive attitudes were centred around perspective-taking, not gender (Smith et al., 2016). Furthermore, it is important to discover if different age groups within these local communities impact the psychological sense of community within these areas that children’s homes are opening within.
Psychological Sense of Community
The Psychological Sense of Community (PSOC) was first introduced by Sarason (1974, p. 157), who defined it as:
The perception of similarity to others and acknowledged interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from them, and the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure and overarching value to judge efforts to change any aspects of community functioning.
Research proposes a sense of community strengthens individuals’ bonding by providing a sense of belonging (Sarason,1974), which has increased levels of personal and collective psychological well-being (Townley, Townley, Kloos, & Kloos, 2011). Townley et al. (2011) explored the PSOC with participants living in supported lodgings with severe mental health conditions. The study found that 53% of the sample felt it was essential to feel a sense of community; However, only 32% reported feeling it, as many barriers were experienced, including stigmatised attitudes towards mental illness (Townley et al., 2011). This suggests PSOC may predict negative attitudes when stigma already occurs towards a pre-existing stigmatised group. However, the 402 participants who participated in the study lived within the supported lodgings only (Townley et al., 2011). Consequently, this could lead to selection bias and poor construct validity (Sedgwick, 2015; Strauss & Smith, 2009) due to the measure not being representable to the community’s entire population. Nevertheless, this highlights PSOC as a critical part of community integration but remains unexamined with LAC living in residential care.
Community integration is associated with the inter-group relationship concept, which refers to the interaction of two social groups concerning how the groups think, feel, and perceive one another (Abrams, & Hogg, 2017; Hogg, Abrams, & Brewer, 2017). Dempster, Leach, & Hargrave (2020) examined the public’s attitudes towards immigrants being housed within local communities identified that negative attitudes and prejudices were reduced through interaction between the groups, also known as contact theory (Zuma, 2014). Dempster et al. (2020) findings are compounded by the ingroup identity model, which proposes the reduction of intergroup bias by taking the ‘us’ to a ‘we’ within groups (Roth, Steffens, & Vignoles, 2018; Steffens, Reese, Ehrke, & Jonas, 2017; van Bergen, de Ruyter, & Pels, 2017). This allows individuals to see beyond the group identity and see the lived experience. Miklikowska (2017) investigated adolescent friendship within the community and identified that adolescents with immigrant friends were less affected by peer prejudice than those who did not engage with the immigrant community, thus reducing social bias (Skinner, Meltzoff, & Olson, 2017). This was found to be due to adolescents having trait empathy, suggesting that a strong sense of community may co-exist with empathy (Miklikowska, 2017).
Empathy is the ability for an individual to emotionally step into the shoes of another, intending to seek an understanding of how others think and feel (Benzel, 2019; Golomski, 2017). Trait empathy is a multifaceted construct that includes perspective taking (cognitive empathy), empathic concern (concern for another’s welfare) and affective sharing (the ability to share others’ emotional experiences) (Batson, 2009; Decety, & Svetlova, 2012; Healey, & Grossman, 2018; Shamay-Tsoory, 2009). Each construct is essential because of its impact on an individual in response to a situation regarding the intentions of others (Healey & Grossman, 2018).
Miklikowska (2018) investigated the implications of empathy and anti-immigrant attitudes in adolescents found that the propensity to empathise was a key component to developing negative attitudes toward immigrants. These results also propose an inverse relationship, which implies that when there are high levels of trait empathy, there are low levels of negative attitudes towards stigmatised groups (Miklikowska, 2018; Tullmann 2020). This implies that if community integration focused on others’ lived experience and the induced empathic emotion this generates, it would allow for perspective-taking to be enhanced through exposure and awareness of others’ situations (Hein, Röder, & Fingerle, 2018), therefore, enabling an increase in pro-social behaviours and producing a protective factor.
Overall, this study aims to explore the extent to which empathy, perspective-taking, and the psychological sense of community, contribute to stigmatised attitudes and whether this is moderated by age.
The quantitative study was a cross-sectional, correlational, exploratory design. A quantitative study was completed to access a broad range of data representative of the general population (Daniel, 2016; Heale & Twycross, 2015).
Participants and Sampling
A volunteer sampling strategy (N=108) was applied due to the topic’s sensitive nature (Lefever, Dal, & Matthiasdottir, 2007). The recruitment process was online and advertised on social media platforms (British Psychological Society, 2017; University of Worcester, 2018). All participants recruited through social media platforms were not given any incentives. Inclusion criteria included a general population sample, age 18 years and over, as informed consent was required (British Psychological Society, 2014). The age of participants was considered within the sampling advertising platforms.
The total number of participants who participated in the study was N=108, all of whom gave informed consent (British Psychological Society, 2014). The participant sample consisted of 88 Females (81.5%) and 20 Males (18.5). The minimum age recorded was 18years, and the maximum age recorded was 64years.
Procedure and Measures
The survey was administered online through SurveyHero, via a link that directed participants straight to the study. Participants were asked to generate their unique identification number using their mobile number’s first six digits and demographic information, including gender and age. Once these mandatory fields were completed, participants were taken to a short vignette (approximately 100 words). The vignette was developed using information and case studies from Barnardos (2020) and the Department of Education (2019), as vignettes regarding children living in residential care were not found.
The Perspective-Taking (PT) Scale and Empathic Concern (EC) Scale (Davis, 1983). The PT and EC scale measures two subscales (perspective-taking and empathic concern). The self-report questionnaire comprised 14- items scored on a 5-point Likert scale from 0 (does not describe me well) to 5 (describes me well). Example items include: “Before criticising somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place” (Item 1- PT). The subscales in the measure showed a Cronbach’s alpha coefficients range from .70 to .78 (De Corte et al., 2007), offering good internal reliability. Test-retest reliability ranged from .62 to.71 (Davis, 1980).
The Community Attitudes towards Mental Illness (CAMI-S) scale (Högberg, Magnusson, Lützén, & Ewalds-Kvist, 2008) is a 20-item self-report measure accessing the cognitive and affective response to stigma based on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 6 (totally agree). The scale is divided into three subscales, with the first being open-mindedness and pro-integration with a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of 0.84 (consists of 9 items). Three of the nine items will be reversed scored due to being negatively worded. The second subscale was fear and avoidance with a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of 0.77 (consists of 6 items), and 4 of the items will be reversed scored also due to being negatively worded. The third subscale was community mental health ideology with a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of 0.71 (consisting of 5 items), with 1 of the items was also reversed scored due to being negatively worded. The overall Cronbach’s alpha coefficient showed 0.903, showing excellent internal reliability (De Corte et al., 2007). This study adapted some terms within the measure, such as ‘mental illness to ‘children living in residential care’. For example, “Residents should accept the location of a mental health facility in their neighbourhood to serve the needs of the local community” (Item 1) was adapted to “Residents should accept the location of a children’s residential home in their neighbourhood to serve the needs of the local community”. This was due to no measures being found regarding community attitudes towards children living in residential care, and this measure showed good reliability (Högberg et al., 2008). Therefore, these adaptations were checked for reliability by completing a small pilot study (8 participants), which found no difficulties within the adaption of question understanding from participants (In, 2017; Moore, Carter, Nietert, & Stewart, 2011), once again showing reliability for the chosen measure.
The Psychological Sense of Community Scale (PSOC) (Jason, Stevens, & Ram, 2015) is a nine-item self-report measure. This measure focused on three ecological domains involving self (identity and importance to self), membership (social relationships) and entity (a group’s organisation and purpose) and used a 6-point Likert scale. The scale’s ratings range from 1 (strongly agree) to 6 (strongly agree), with all factor loadings showing high reliability (Jason et al., 2015). Overall, the measure showed excellent internal reliability and convergent validity with a Cronbach alpha coefficient of .923 (Jason et al., 2015).
Hierarchical regression was performed to determine whether the addition of empathy, perspective-taking, PSOC predicted stigmatised attitudes. The addition of empathy to the prediction of stigmatised attitudes did not lead to a statistically significant increase in R2 of .010, F(1,105) = 1.079, p =.30. The addition of perspective taking on the prediction of stigmatised attitudes did not lead to a statistically significant increase in the R2 of .004, F(1,104) = .449, p = .50. Furthermore, the addition of PSCO to the prediction of stigmatised attitudes also did not lead to a statistically significant increase to the R2 = 0.41, F(1,103) = 0.41, p = 0.34. Overall, the full model of empathy, perspective-taking and the PSOC to predict stigmatized attitudes was not statistically significant, R2 = .0.80, F(4,103) = 2.239, p = .70, adjusted R2 = .044.
To investigate whether empathy, perspective-taking, the PSOC and stigmatised attitudes are moderated by age, a simple moderator analysis was performed using PROCESS (Bolin, 2014; Hayes, 2013). The outcome variable was stigmatised attitudes. The predictor variable was empathy, and the covariates were PSOC and perspective-taking. The moderator variable for the analysis was age. The interaction between empathy, PSOC, perspective-taking and age was found to not be statistically significant F(13, 94) = 1.32, p = .21, R2 = .15. The additions of the interactions caused .0325 of the R2. The predictor variable of empathy has b = – .055, t(94) = -.15, p = .88. The PSOC b = .16, t(94) = 1.95 p = .054 had the lowest likelihood of being down to chance p = .054. The results also imply that when age is the moderator variable it suggests a positive trend between the moderator variable (age) and dependant variable stigmatised attitudes18-24years b = -12.50, 25-34 years b = 9.32, 35-44 years b = 2.20, 55-64years b = 2.87, 65-74 b = 18.36.
The hierarchical regression and moderation analysis results investigated if empathy, perspective-taking, PSOC and stigmatised attitudes were moderated by age were found not to be statistically significant. This suggests that the extent to which empathy, perspective-taking and the PSOC contribute to stigmatised attitudes and whether this is moderated by age is still unclear. However, even though there was no statistical significance within the results, it can be inferred from the findings that a rise in empathy saw a reduction in stigmatised attitudes. Furthermore, a general trend was identified that stigmatised attitudes were seen to increase when age-group categories rose.
Due to the study being a new research area, no comparison can be made with previous research findings and the relationship between these specific variables. Nevertheless, the results did infer that when participants’ empathy increased, this reduced stigmatised attitudes. This is consistent with previous research investigating stigmatised attitudes reduction and proposed that when high levels of empathy were generated, attitude reduction was had, leading to more sensitivity in individuals’ behaviours (Finlay et al., 2006; Miller et al.,1997). This also implies that an individual’s ability to empathise can be seen as a protective factor to community integration for LAC living in residential care (Department for Education, 2019; Gambaro et al., 2020). Subsequently, reducing the risk of childhood psychopathology through an increase of emotional safety within the community can help aid the resilience process to develop and gain a greater sense of belonging (Albott et al., 2018; Compass et al., 2017; Health, 2013; Sarason,1974; Townley et al., 2011).
The study’s findings also suggest a general trend of when age increased, an increase in stigmatised attitudes was noticed, differing from previous studies findings (Cybulski et al., 2013; Yue & Ng, 1999). A possible rationale for this includes previous research findings indicated that LAC living in residential care were perceived to fail and not actively achieve in life (Become., 2017; Leloux-Opmeer et al., 2017; Manny et al., 2017; Swaab & Scholte, 2016; Quiroga et al., 2017). Therefore, this would not meet the social and economic expectations expected from the older adults, thus believing LAC will fail to achieve (Cybulski et al., 2013; Yue & Ng, 1999). However, as previous research has shown, this is not true of all LAC children living in residential care but could identify a risk factor regarding integration within communities over the age of 50 years (Become.,2017; Crittenden, 2017; Department for Education, 2019).
It is also important to highlight that no effect may have been found regarding empathy due to the current global pandemic, as new research is currently emerging regarding the adverse psychological impact on individuals throughout national lockdowns (Agha, 2021; Chiwona-Karltun et al., 2021; Gammon & Ramshaw, 2020; Grover et al., 2020; Smith et al., 2020). This could influence an individual’s ability to empathise as previous research suggest individuals who are struggling with mental health challenges can see an increase in empathy reduction (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Farrow & Woodruff, 2007; Furnham & Sjokvist, 2017; Gateshill, Kucharska-Pietura, & Wattis, 2011; Preti, Di Pierro, Fanti, Madeddu, & Galati, 2020). It is highly likely that participants were in a national lockdown when participating in the study, thus highlighting the potential influence that Covid-19 could have had on participants responses (Grover et al., 2020).
The PSOC may have provided no effect as many of the participants included university undergraduates, which research has found to be a high-risk group regarding loneliness and not feeling part of a community during the current pandemic (Bu, Steptoe, & Fancourt, 2020; Killgore, Cloonan, Taylor, Miller, & Dailey, 2020; Marchini et al., 2021). Furthermore, older adults (70+ years) have been at particular risk of contracting COVID-19, resulting in many having to shield themselves at home (Sepúlveda-Loyola et al., 2020; Wu, 2020). This can significantly increase the risk of adult psychopathology and limit a participant’s ability to empathise and feel a PSOC (Preti et al., 2020). Therefore, considering the potential limitations for some participants to have the ability to empathise and the legal restrictions due to lockdown, this may have reduced personal and collective well-being, which previous research found to be important in providing a sense of belonging (Sarason,1974; Townley et al., 2011). Consequently, participants’ responses to feeling a PSOC could have vastly reduced and influenced the current study’s findings.
No previous research has been found regarding the general population’s perceptions of children living in residential care. Therefore, this study provides valuable insight into the current issues these children face from professionals and the local communities that homes are opening in (Become, 2017; Evesham Journal, 2017; Leloux-Opmeer, Kuiper, Steels, & Simpson, 2017; Swaab, & Scholte, 2016; Quiroga, Hamilton-Giachritsis, & Fanés, 2017). Even though the results were not statistically significant, the literature review alone highlights the importance of future studies to continue investigating this area of social psychology to help narrow the gap between stigma, LAC living in residential care and risk to childhood psychopathology (Kaushik et al., 2016; Morin et al., 2013; Noble et al., 2016; Panza et al., 2019).
The reporting of non-statistical findings also highlights this study’s consideration of publication bias (Joober, Schmitz, Annable, & Boksa, 2012; Kühberger, Fritz, & Scherndl, 2014). Publication bias is the author’s tendency only to publish statistically significant results (Ferguson& Heene, 2012). This, therefore, highlights the study’s integrity regarding ethical considerations to research (Psychological Society, 2014).
Limitations/ Future Research
Demographic differences should be considered in future studies, including ethnicity. Research has shown that gathering ethnicity data allows for a better understanding of participants’ characteristics (Hughes, Camden, & Yangchen, 2016; Salkind, 2010). Wong, Collins, Cerully, Seelam, & Roth (2017), investigating racial and ethnic differences in mental health stigma, found that stigma contributed to specific ethnic groups not seeking help for mental health disorders, believed to be because of negative attitudes towards mental health. This highlights the importance of this for future research as those with diverse cultural backgrounds may feel differently towards children living in residential care, as different cultures will have different beliefs regarding what family and children mean to them, including behavioural expectations (Chalik & Dunham, 2020; Lansford et al., 2018)
This study also used self-report questionnaires, which have been found to produce social desirability bias regarding participants’ responses (Kwak, Holtkamp, & Kim, 2019; Miklikowska, 2018). Krumpal and Krumpal (2013) literature review investigating social desirability bias in self-report measures for sensitive research topics found a stable need for social approval to be an influencing factor. This suggests that future research should consider an alternative data collection strategy or design to help control social desirability (Fernandes & Randall, 1992).
This study hopes to raise awareness towards community integration to LAC living in residential care. The literature review within this study suggests that stigmatised attitudes do exist towards children living in residential care (Blackpool Gazette, 2020; Evesham Journal, 2017; Leloux-Opmeer, Kuiper, Steels, & Simpson, 2017; Swaab, & Scholte, 2016; Quiroga, Hamilton-Giachritsis, & Fanés, 2017). Consequently, research has shown stigma to be a risk factor towards childhood psychopathy (Ford et al., 2007; Simkiss, 2019; Wade et al., 2018). Therefore, there is a clear need for this research to be explored further so that public policy can be implemented (Department for Education, 2014; Department for Education, 2019). This can be implemented by educating professionals working within the children’s services to promote community integration and educate individuals to understand better the LAC’s lived experience (Department for Education, 2014; Department for Education, 2019). Increasing empathic concern, which Tropp and Pettigrew (2005) suggested through face-to-face contact, is one way this could be achieved. It is worth noting that even though the study found this to be less effective for minorities than for majorities, the study was made up of adults and not children (Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005). This is important to highlight as research has found that children thrive on social integration when managed sensitively, potentially more than adults (Erikson, 1968; Ford, Vostanis, Meltzer, & Goodman, 2007). Therefore, policy change should consider extending face-to-face time to increase empathy levels. New children’s homes may also benefit from having open days before children are placed into the home for the local community to visit and ask questions to understand better the home’s purpose (Department for Education, 2014; Department for Education 2019). Overall, this would provide a greater sense of community for all involved. However, most importantly, it will help reduce the current risk to childhood psychopathology that children living in residential care face (Ford et al., 2007; Simkiss, 2019; Wade et al., 2018).
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