NSPCC warns children in care are being returned to abusive homes
The NSPCC is today warning that hundreds of children currently going into care will be sent back to abusive family homes without the support needed to keep them safe from harm.
The most common outcome for children leaving care is, by far, to be returned home to their family. Worrying figures1 show that around half of the abused or neglected children who enter care each year are abused or neglected again when they return home. A third suffer repeated but failed attempts to reintegrate them into their family.
The current focus on adoption is welcome but is only an outcome for a small minority of children who go into care. Fewer than one in 20 are eventually adopted2. Focusing equally on the far higher number who return home would have a substantial impact on reducing repeated harm.
The NSPCC is calling for the Government to issue new child centred guidance to local authorities for returning children home from care. The charity’s call follows figures, issued earlier this month that show the number of care applications to court has topped 10,000 for the first time3 ever.
Tom Rahilly, NSPCC Head of Strategy and Development for Looked After Children, said:
“Local authorities are doing a very challenging job and have to make tough decisions every day. Care does provide a safe and supportive environment for some of our most vulnerable children and can be the right option in many cases. The trauma caused to children who are abused, go into care, and are then abused again when they return home is unimaginable. Their trust in adults and their motivation to speak out is shattered.
“Evidence shows that the wrong decision is being made in far too many cases. So it’s vital that decisions to return a child home are taken cautiously and the risks to the child are assessed carefully. If parents’ problems have not improved, the child must stay in the safety of care. And if a child is returned home, the concerns which led to them being removed in the first place must be addressed before they go home.
“Without the right checks and parental support, most children go back to square one and can suffer significant long-term harm. Returning home must only be seen as the start of a process where the needs of the child come first and the situation is monitored closely on a continuing and long-term basis.”
The NSPCC is calling on the Government to:
- publish full data on the outcomes of looked after children who are returned home to increase transparency and accountability
- revise the care planning guidance to cover children returning home from care, ensuring that placement decisions are based on the child’s needs, and that the necessary support is provided to children and their families
- improve the support to families to tackle problems such as substance misuse, domestic violence, mental health issues and poor parenting before and during reunification.
The NSPCC is testing a new service to ensure children who are reunited with their families are not abused or neglected again. Our learning from this innovative new service will be shared with local authorities and agencies. This will help improve practice across the UK so that abused and neglected children can return to safe and happy homes.
Next month the NSPCC will bring together professionals, policy makers and looked after children to work alongside the Society on a review of the role of care in protecting and supporting children.
Media enquiries: 0207 825 2533: Out of hours – 07976 206625
Notes to Editors
Case studies available on request
New NSPCC report available from Monday 26 April on www.nspcc.org.uk/childrenincare
1 Farmer, E., et al (2008) The Reunification of Looked After Children with their Parents: Patterns, interventions and outcomes found that 46% of for children who entered care as a result of abuse or neglect suffered further abuse or neglect if they returned home, similar to the 42% of children identified as suffering re-abuse in Sinclair, I., et al (2005) Foster children: Where they go and how they get on, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Farmer, E. and Lutman, E. (2010) Case management and outcomes for neglected children returned to their parents: a five year follow-up study, found that 60% of neglected children suffer further neglect when they returned home.
UK studies have found high levels of reunification breakdown, with three in five (59%) children who were previously maltreated returning to care at least once. Source: Wade, J., et al (2010) Research Brief: Maltreated children in the looked after system; A comparison of outcomes for those who go home and those who do not. London: DCSF/DoH.
Studies show up a third of children who returned home experienced two or more failed reunifications. Source: Farmer, E., et al (2011), Achieving Successful Returns from Care: What makes reunification work? London: BAAF
Farmer et al also identified that even when a child’s return home did not break down, they experienced poor standards of care in a third of cases. 62 per cent of children who returned home remained with a suspected abuser even after concerns had been identified. In 41 per cent of these cases the child was left too long without sufficient investigation or support, and in 16 per cent of cases the child remained at home even after a confirmed incident of abuse or neglect.
The NSPCC’s work shows that local authorities face a range of difficulties including:
- a lack of evidence used in making decisions about whether a child should return home, resulting in children who face significant risks of harm
- poor support for parents to tackle issues such as drug or alcohol abuse, and mental health difficulties. Many children return home before problems which led to them entering care are addressed
- inadequate monitoring for the child returning home, with cases closed quickly after a child’s return despite the risk of problems reoccurring .