Looked After Children and Young People in Northern Ireland
: Education, School and Unauthorised Absence

  • Emma O'Neill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Background: Key findings at 31st March 2016 indicate that 2890 children and young people were looked after (LACYP) by the state in Northern Ireland (NI). This is the highest number recorded since 1996. These children and young people are identified by the Department of Health (DH) as one of the most disadvantaged groups in NI, who exhibit a regular pattern of non-attendance at school, and who are likely to experience poorer educational outcomes.

Aim: To identify why there are higher rates of unauthorised absence from school among post-primary LACYP, what does this tell us about their educational experiences, and what is known to be helpful or unhelpful in addressing this issue.

Method: An exploratory, qualitative approach investigated the school and educational experiences of young people, consisting of three studies involving service providers, young people and mentors. Twenty participants took part in individual interviews which were analysed using Thematic Content Analysis (TCA), (Study One and Study Three) and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), (Study Two).

Findings: The studies revealed difficult experiences young people encountered in the school environment, personal characteristics of young people, parenting style of carers, placement stability and type, all of which contributed to non-attendance. Disciplinary measures used by schools were found to be ineffective in addressing attendance issues. Finally despite the comprehensive legal frameworks in place in NI that govern the care of those looked after by the state, the evidence presented in this thesis suggests the intent of these frameworks is not always in evidence at a grassroots level.

Conclusion: The findings highlight the need for the care and education systems to work together to facilitate the educational process of those looked after the by state. Some contributing factors are associated with characteristics of young people themselves, many of whom are recovering from trauma. A lack of collaborative, partnership working between authorities compounds the issue of unauthorised absence further and the associated risks.
Date of AwardMar 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorUna O'Connor Bones (Supervisor) & Tony Cassidy (Supervisor)


  • looked after children

Cite this