Children in care Safeguarding looked after children
Most children living in care are kept safe from harm. However, a small number still remain at risk of abuse or neglect.
Children may enter care for all sorts of reasons. But most enter because they have been abused or neglected. These experiences can leave children with complex emotional and mental health needs. And this can increase their vulnerability to abuse.
Many children also move repeatedly in and out of care, or between placements. This can prevent them from forming stable relationships with the adults who could help protect them (Rahilly and Hendry, 2014).
Risk of abuse in care
Most children live safely in foster care and residential care. But, some children are harmed each year.
Our research into child abuse allegations in care found that a very small proportion of children reported experiencing abuse, neglect or poor standards of care from the people who were meant to be looking after them (Beihal et al, 2014).
- less than 1 substantiated allegation per 100 children in foster care
- 2-3 substantiated allegations per 100 children in residential care.
Physical abuse or the use of excessive restraint were the most common category of allegation.
Read the full report: Keeping children safe: allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of children in care
Research has also found children in care are also at greater risk of being bullied or abused by other children (Barter and Berridge, 2011) and are more likely to be the target of sexual exploitation (Office of the Children's Commissioner and Berelowitz, 2012).
Children missing from care
Children may run away from care for all sorts of reasons. These include:
- wanting to return home to their family
- being unhappy or bored in their care placement
- or feeling like they didn't have enough control over their own lives.
Read our report on Children who go missing from care (PDF) to find out more.
Children in care areto have run away than their peers
Explanation: In 2011 The Children's Society surveyed over 7,000 young people in England, aged 14 to 16, about their experiences of running away. The survey sample included 90 young people who were living in foster care or a children's home at the time of the survey. These young people were much more likely to have run away overnight (52%) at some point than the national average (8.9%). Some of these children may have run away from home before entering care. The sample is relatively small but this finding is broadly consistent with earlier research.
What works in safeguarding children in care
No two children in care are the same. Each child has their own characteristics and individual needs. But all children need strong, caring and trusting relationships with those who care for them.
Through talking to looked after children and young people we've identified 6 key ways the care system can be improved:
- ensure young people's voices are heard
- strengthen the social care work force and improving practice
- promote the right to advocacy
- improve emotional support
- support transitions in and out of care
- improve public understanding of the care system.
Read Promoting the wellbeing of children in care: messages from research to see all of our findings.
Our services for children in care
Face to Face
New Orleans Intervention Model
More about children in care
Research and resources
Signs, symptoms and effects of child abuse and neglect
Support our research
Research like this helps keep children safe from abuse – but we can’t do it without our generous supporters.
Support for professionals
Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.
Get online safeguarding training
Learn how children use the internet and how you can keep them safe from abuse.
How safe are our children? Growing up online
Our annual flagship conference is for everyone working in child protection.
Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.
We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.
New in the Library
A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.
Helping you keep children safe
Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.
Impact and evidence
Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.
Training and consultancy
Sharing knowledge to keep children safe
Read our guide to the NSPCC Knowledge and Information Service to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.
All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and All Party Parliamentary Group for Looked after Children and Care Leavers (2012) Report from the joint inquiry into children who go missing from care. London: All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults
Barter, C. and Berridge, D. (eds.) (2011) Children behaving badly?: peer violence between children and young people. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell
Biehal, N. et al. (2014) Keeping children safe: allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of children in care: final report. London: NSPCC
Office of the Children's Commissioner and Berelowitz, S. (2012) Briefing for the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, on the emerging findings of the Office of the Children's Commissioner's Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, with a special focus on children in care. London: Office of the Children's Commissioner
Rahilly, T. and Hendry. E. (eds) (2014) Promoting the wellbeing of children in care: messages from research London: NSPCC