The mental health, emotional literacy, cognitive ability, literacy attainment and ‘resilience’ of ‘looked after children’: A multidimensional, multiple-rater population based study


  • This paper is dedicated to the late Professor Matthew Colton and his surviving family. Matthew was an inspirational colleague. His research into the needs of children in care has, without doubt, made a positive difference in the lives of many.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Paul Rees, Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University, Wales, UK (e-mail:



Existing research studies suggest that children who are looked after by the State experience high levels of mental health difficulties and underachieve in many other domains. Few studies, however, aim to reflect the heterogeneity of these children and those who are performing well may be under-represented in the findings. This study aims to provide a more representative picture, offering novel data on resilience.


A multidimensional, multiple-rater population-based study of looked after children.


The entire population of looked after children aged 7–15 years (= 193) in one local authority was assessed in core domains; mental health, emotional literacy, cognitive ability and literacy attainment. Measures included the Strength and Difficulties questionnaire, Emotional Literacy Assessment and Intervention Inventory, and the British Ability Scales. The children's data were compared with general population norms and existing research studies. The incidence of resilience, defined by the fulfilment of positive exception criteria, was recorded. Children fulfilling positive exception criteria were then compared to the remaining children on key factors.


The looked after children performed less well in all domains compared with general population norms. Sixteen per cent of children met the positive exception criteria. Positive performance on individual measures varied from 34% to 76%. A statistically significant association was found between positive exception classification and two factors; parental contact and mainstream schooling.


In general terms, this study supports the findings of previous research studies. However, evidence of positive exceptions across and within all domains cautions against overgeneralization of findings. The findings also implicate parental contact and mainstream education in the promotion of resilience.