Evaluation of the scale-up of an evidence-informed framework for return home practice How local authorities are using the reunification practice framework

Four women sat around a conference tableThe most common outcome for a child who has left the care system is to return back to the care of a parent or relative. However, without the right assessment and support many of these children end up back in care again.

The reunification practice framework supports social workers' professional judgement about if and how a child should return home.

We have been supporting 3 local authorities to implement the framework. The University of Bristol has evaluated the implementation.

This evaluation involved interviews with a senior manager in each local authority and questionnaires with practitioners and managers. It looks at:

  • how useful practitioners and managers found the practice framework
  • the barriers and facilitators to implementing it
  • what change it made to the skills, confidence, methods of practice or management and research knowledge of people using it
  • how likely they thought it was that other local authorities would be able to implement the framework without outside help.

Author: Elaine Farmer and Demi Patsios
Published: 2016

The practice framework and implementation

  • Practitioners and managers were very positive about the framework. They saw it as clearly set out, practical and evidence based.
  • The factors which had helped to get the framework accepted included senior managers championing and supporting implementation and using Advanced Practitioners to support implementation.
  • Barriers to implementation included capacity issues, uncertainty about how the framework fitted with other processes, lack of services and a lack of buy-in from other professionals or agencies.

Changes made during the project

  • An increased number of practitioners felt confident in assessing a parent's capacity to change.
  • There were statistically significant increases in the proportion of managers who said that:
    • their authorities had established the data to improve reunification practice and were using it to monitor returns and improve practice
    • they had a good understanding of the costs and cost savings associated with providing good support and work on reunification
    • cost savings were being tracked by the authority.
  • Practitioners and managers said they were more aware of some practice issues relating to reunification, such as:
    • the importance of parental engagement and appreciation of the role that foster carers can play
    • the importance of preparation, knowing children’s histories and of returns home being gradual.
  • But awareness of other key issues remained low, such as:
    • the relationship between previous failed returns home, the child’s older age or behavioural difficulties and return breakdown
    • the link between the provision of specialist services for parents and children, and also changed household composition and return success
    • that children are much more often maltreated if they return to parents who have alcohol or drugs misuse problems.


  • Around half of the managers reported that, since the start of the project, changes had been made to address gaps in services including alcohol and drugs misuse services, domestic abuse, direct work on parent-child relationships and on adolescent difficulties and parenting programmes.


  • Most practitioners said that, since doing the learning sets, they were keen to:
    • undertake assessments of risk and protective factors and parental capacity to change – including using Written Agreements with parents
    • ensure continued assessment and monitoring after return home
    • make sure that support plans were in place
    • produce detailed chronologies.
  • Managers had also learned that:
    • reunification had to be given a higher profile
    • return should be considered from the beginning
    • how important providing training was in the use of the approach
    • the importance of using the tools in the framework.

How easily practitioners in another authority would be able to understand and use the framework without outside help

  • Over half (54%) of the practitioners and 83% of the managers thought it would be very easy or quite easy for practitioners or managers in another authority to understand and use the framework without any outside help.

Ensuring that local authorities give reunification a higher profile

  • Senior managers thought that:
    • the publication of national data on returns and re-entry to care, broken down by local authority, would be helpful
    • ensuring reunification was always discussed at looked after children reviews would be helpful
    • all qualifying and post-qualifying social work courses should include reunification in their programmes.
Executive summary 9
Introduction 16
The Implementation Project 18
Evaluation Aims and Methods 24
The findings of the evaluation: the practitioners 29
The findings of the evaluation: the managers 43
Summary and conclusion 65
References 67
Appendices 69

Please cite as: Farmer E. and Patsios D. (2015) Evaluation report on implementing the Reunification Practice Framework. Bristol: University of Bristol.

"A practical tool with real relevance to the lives of children."

Got a question?

Our Knowledge and Information Service answer over a thousand enquiries every year helping professionals find the information and resources they need to keep children safe.

Send us your enquiry

Related resources

An evidence-informed framework for return home practice

A tool to support social workers' professional judgement about if and how a child should return home.
Find out more

Process evaluation of the New Orleans Intervention Model for infant mental health in Glasgow

Investigates the impact of key features of the Glasgow Infant Family Team, a service putting infants’ attachment relationships at the heart of decisions about whether they should enter care permanently. Part of the NSPCC's Impact and evidence series.
Find out more

Returning children home from care: learning from case reviews

Lessons from case reviews published since 2010, which have highlighted lessons for returning children home from care.
Find out more

Supporting children and families returning home from care: counting the costs

Compares the costs of providing support services to children and families returning home with the costs of failed reunifications.
Find out more

Evaluation of implementation of an evidence-informed framework for return home practice

Report by Loughborough University about using the NSPCC Framework to support children to safely return home from care. Part of the NSPCC’s Impact and evidence series.
Find out more

Face to Face

Improving the emotional well-being of children in care, or who may go into care, by helping them find solutions to problems affecting their lives.
Face to Face service

New Orleans Intervention Model

Reducing the risk of abuse or neglect by helping professionals assess if children should stay in care.
New Orleans Intervention Model service

Taking Care

Helping to make sure children only return home from care when it’s safe and with the right support.
Taking Care service

Returning home from care

The most common outcome for a child who has left the care system is to return back home to a parent or relative. 
Find out more

Children in care

Find out about our work with looked after children, the challenges in care and what the law says.
Find out more

Child protection in the UK

How the systems and laws of the UK and its 4 nations work to keep children safe from abuse and harm.
More about the child protection system


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.

Sign up to CASPAR

Information Service

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.

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

How safe are our children? Growing up online

Our annual flagship conference is for everyone working in child protection.

Find out more

Follow @NSPCCpro

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

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

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.

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

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

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 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.

Read our guide (PDF)