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Helping children in care fulfil their potential

Each year, local authorities in England act as ‘corporate parents’ for the 100,000 children who are placed in care at a cost of around £2.5bn. Those children in care when they do their GCSEs tend to do less well than their peers and, if their experience of care is particularly unstable, they are likely to fare even worse.

Research analysing and linking two sets of Department for Education data is revealing clear, meaningful evidence on the lived experiences of children in care: how common it is, which children are more likely to return to care within five years, and the ways in which that affects how well they do at school.

How the research helps

Giving children permanence and stability is a stated aim of the care system in England. A clearer understanding of the factors linked with a stable experience would help to facilitate evidence-based policies and inform practice.

This research is helping social work policymakers and professionals to understand which groups of children are most likely to re-enter care, and who may need additional support when leaving.

The Department for Education also wants to help children from less advantaged backgrounds do better in school. By linking the data sets together it will be possible to explore how children in care get on at school and how their educational outcomes vary with different care experiences.


Key findings and points

Findings to date from the research are on the experiences of children in care. They provide some important new insights:

  • One in 30 children in England born between 1992 and 1994 entered care at some point in their childhood
  • Children of Black ethnicity are five times more likely than other children to have spent time in care
  • Percentage of infants entering care increased by 0.3% for the 2009-11 birth cohort – an increase of 2000 children
  • One third of children leaving care re-enters within five years
  • White or Mixed ethnicity adolescents who have been returned to their parents were most likely to re-enter to care within five years
  • Children who had a single, stable placement in care were half as likely to re-enter care as children who moved carer five or more times

What has been achieved?

This research represents a more detailed examination of the data than has ever been undertaken before and has provided important new and useful information on the real ‘lived experiences’ of children in care.

The findings have been used to create a simple online calculator to help social workers and others working with vulnerable children to understand more about which groups of children are most likely to go back into care within three months.


The data

The research makes use of and will go on to link two Department for Education data sets.


The research

This ADRN funded PhD research begins by examining the CLA to draw a more nuanced picture of children’s experiences of care. It is going on to link the CLA with the NPD to examine those children’s educational outcomes and explore how these vary with different care experiences.


The people involved 

Louise Mc Grath-Lone, ADRC-E and Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, UCL

Prof Ruth Gilbert, ADRC-E and Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, UCL

Prof Lorraine Dearden, ADRC-E and UCL Institute of Education

Dr Bilal Nasim, ADRC-E and UCL Institute of Education

Dr Katie Harron, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine


Further information and links

Describing the use of out-of-home care among children in England using routine data, Case Study 42, 100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better, The Farr Institute

Why some children are more likely to go back into care than others, The Conversation

Factors associated with re-entry to out-of-home care among children in England, Child Abuse and Neglect, Volume 63, January 2017, Pages 73–83

Data Resource Profile: Children Looked After Return (CLA), International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 0, 2016, p. 1–8 

Changes in first entry to out-of-home care from 1992 to 2012 among children in England, Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 51, January 2016, p. 163–171 

Hard Evidence: are more children going into care?, The Conversation

Safeguarding children and improving their care in the UK, Correspondence in The Lancet, Volume 386, Issue 10004, October 2015, p. 1630 


Page last updated: 24/10/2017