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Why Are More Children Coming Into Care?

The main reason for the increasing numbers of children entering care during the last four years has been attributed to the ‘Baby Peter effect’ – or social workers being less likely to take risks, with the damming indictment of them removing children unnecessarily from families and indulging in organisational and self protection. This ‘effect’ may have had a very short term impact, as evidence from previous high profile child abuse case has shown, but is unlikely to have been sustained over four years. More likely explanations are threefold.

"We currently rely on single normative outcome measures – such as educational attainment or offending statistics – which for many young people, who have been in care for a very short time, tells us more about their pre-care experiences…"

First, the 'other Baby Peter effect' which has received far less attention: social workers are carrying out more thorough assessments and have the evidence to remove children from abusive birth parents, even while they are considering different options, including rehabilitation and what support they may give to families. The evidence shows that most of these children and young people will come into care for a few weeks or months and return to their parents: 40 per cent return within 6 months and a majority within a year.

Second, social workers, recognise that care can make a positive difference to some young people's lives. Research evidence shows that those children who remain in care longer term and who are provided with stability in good quality placements can do better than those who return to their families - although, perhaps surprisingly, given how often blame is heaped on the care system for all societal ills, there is no official measure which takes into account young people's 'starting points' on entry to care and the progress they make. We currently rely on single normative outcome measures – such as educational attainment or offending statistics – which for many young people, who have been in care for a very short time, tells us more about their pre-care experiences, including birth family influences and social deprivation. Retrospective data on care and outcomes is particularly misleading.

Third, given the differences between local authorities in the numbers of children both entering and leaving the care system, at different ages, it is likely that these trends can be accounted for by differences in levels of need and the provision of services: the former being associated with social and economic deprivation and lack of social cohesion and supportive networks, and the latter with how care is perceived, including investment in the quality of care and preventative services.

21.05.12

by Mike Stein

Published in Guest Articles

About the Author

Mike Stein Mike Stein is a Research Professor at the Social Policy Research Unit, University of York. He has recently had a book published called 'Care Less Lives' which tells the story of the rights movement of young people in care in England.

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