Keeping children safe: allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of children in care Research into child abuse allegations against foster carers and residential care workers

Girl stood by fenceWe commissioned the University of York to undertake research into the number and nature of child abuse allegations made against foster carers and residential care workers in the UK.

The report includes findings from:

  • a survey of 211 local authorities across the UK
  • a follow-up of 111 substantiated cases of abuse or neglect (87 in foster care and 24 in residential care), concerning a total of 146 children.

The report highlights messages for policy and practice around ensuring children in care are safe from abuse and neglect.

The research was conducted by the University of York for the NSPCC. This is part of our Impact and evidence series.

Authors: Nina Biehal, Linda Cusworth, Jim Wade and Susan Clarke
Published: 2014

The vast majority of children live safely in foster care and residential care but a minority of children across the UK do experience harm each year from those responsible for their care.

Foster care

The research found:

  • an estimated 450–550 confirmed cases of abuse or neglect in foster care per year
  • around 22% of an estimated 2,000– 2,500 allegations per year were confirmed
  • this equates to less than one substantiated allegation per 100 children in foster care.

Almost half of the foster carers involved in substantiated cases had been the subject of previous allegations. Allegations related to physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, as well as poor standards of care.

The research found:

  • an estimated 250–300 confirmed cases of abuse or neglect in residential care per year
  • around 22% of an estimated 1,100-1,400 allegations per year were confirmed
  • this equates to 2-3 substantiated allegations per 100 children in residential care.

Over half of the cases concerning residential staff were categorised as either physical abuse or use of excessive physical restraint. These cases were similar in nature, generally involving staff reacting inappropriately to episodes of challenging behaviour by young people.

These estimates may be an underestimate as some allegations were unsubstantiated due to a lack of evidence to either prove or disprove them. These figures also take no account of abuse by adults outside the placement or abuse by other children.

Executive summary 10
The research and policy context 19
Study design and methods 37
UK-wide survey of allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of looked after children  49
Allegations in foster care: the scale and nature of the problem 50
Allegations in residential care: the scale and nature of the problem 63
Exploring substantiated cases of abuse or neglect 73
Patterns of abuse or neglect in foster care 74
Exploring abuse or neglect in foster care 91
The abuse of young people in residentialcare 111
Conclusion: messages for policy and practice 123
References 139

Please cite as: Biehal, N. et al. (2014) Keeping children safe: allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of children in care: final report. London: NSPCC.

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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.

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Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

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Submit an enquiry

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

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Library catalogue

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.

Search the library

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

New in the Library is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to New in the Library

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.

Read our guide (PDF)

Impact and evidence hub

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Get expert training and consultancy

Grow your child protection knowledge and skills with CPD certified courses delivered by our experts nationwide and online.
Get expert training

Sharing knowledge to keep children safe

Read our guide to NSPCC Knowledge and Information Services to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.

Read our guide (PDF)