Supporting children and families returning home from care: counting the costs Calculating the costs of family reunification

Boy outside houseWe commissioned the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University to undertake research into the costs associated with returning children home from care.

This report compares the costs of providing support services to children and families returning home, with the costs of failed reunifications, where the children ended up back in care. It argues that providing appropriate social care support and services to children and families when children return from care could reduce the likelihood of the family reunification breaking down, and the child re-entering care. This would result in significant long-term cost savings.

Author: Lisa Holmes
Published: 2014

  • The estimated cost of providing appropriate support and services to meet the needs of all children and families returning home from care is £56 million a year.
  • The total estimated cost for all failed reunifications is £300 million a year.
  • The report calculates that if an extra 300 children a year, over a 3-year budget cycle, could remain safely with their families after leaving care, the cost savings would offset the cost of providing appropriate support and services to all families.
  • The most common outcome for children leaving care, is to return home to parents (35%).
  • Children should only return home from care, if it is safe for them to do so.
  • 10,080 children in England left care and returned home to parents in 2013.
  • However research tells us that between around a third and two-thirds of children returning home end up back in care.
  • Reunifications often fail because families do not receive the support they need to overcome their problems (most commonly poor parenting, domestic violence, parental substance misuse and mental health problems).
  • A significant number of children move back and forth between being in care and living with their family.

The report calculates the costs of providing support to children and families based on:

  • ongoing social care support costs as Child in Need cases
  • parenting support
  • adult mental health, drug and alcohol and CAMHS services as appropriate.

The costs of a failed reunification, where a child returns to care, include:

  • social work costs
  • decision making costs
  • placement costs
  • legal costs.

We are happy to share the costs and methods used in this report with local authorities in order to help local area strategic planning of support and services for children and families across children and adults social care and health.

If you would like to access the customisable spreadsheets please contact either CCFR ( or NSPCC (

Acknowledgements 4
Introduction 5
Headline finding 5
Rationale behind this report 6
Findings 11
Estimating the costs 13
Making use of the costs 19 
Next steps 19

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