Prioritising the wellbeing of children in care

We can and must learn from the latest research to improve the wellbeing of children in care, says Tom Rahilly

The general election on 7 May is fast approaching, with increasing speculation on what it will mean for various areas of our lives. It's fair to say that it's not yet clear what it will mean for children in care. Despite the state's specific responsibilities, the needs of children and young people in care are not at the centre of political debate. They rarely are. girl and practitioner smiling

What is clear is that we must do a lot more if we're to meet our obligations as "corporate parents". Changes in the past 5 years have been significant:

  • a continued push to speed up and increase the number of adoptions
  • family law reform
  • the Children and Families Act 2014
  • work to improve residential care.

But talk to anyone working with children in care and they'll tell you that there's a long way to go to ensure we give our most vulnerable children and young people the future they deserve. Events in Oxfordshire, and elsewhere, have starkly shown us the horrific consequences when we don't live up to our responsibilities to children in care.

Bridging the gap between research and practice

Most people say that the most important challenge is how we improve practice. How can we examine the support we provide to children and young people and identify how it can be improved? There's a great wealth of research evidence about what works. But people still find it hard to access - they still find it hard to understand what it means for their day to day work.

That's why we decided to publish Promoting the Wellbeing of Children in Care – to help bridge the gap between research and practice. We've brought together leading academics and practitioners from across the UK to set out recommendations for changes to practice and policy based on the latest research.

We need to transform the way we think about care

Pulling together contributions for the book made it clear that we need to transform the way in which we think about care. The research presented by the authors clearly demonstrates how our understanding about the care system influences its effectiveness. We need to change this by using the latest research to understand what aspects of practice and policy must change. Achieving significant change requires us to examine the role that care plays in both our family support and child protection systems. We all need to identify how to improve family support, but also understand when care is in the best interests of children and young people.

Editing the book identified a number of cross-cutting themes which are critical to this improvement. Our care system needs a greater focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing, providing support based on individual needs; our work at the NSPCC shows that too often the need to improve mental health is forgotten.

The research shows that it's vital that children and young people are supported to develop strong, stable relationships. They are critical to safeguarding and promoting their wellbeing. Again, this is often overlooked and systems and services unnecessarily disrupt and break up this stability. The messages from research show us a way in which we can achieve this. We need to view care as part of an integrated family support and child protection system, developing the workforce and addressing variation between, and within, authorities. This whole-system thinking should shape the way in which we seek to improve the lives of children in care.

Let's prioritise children in care

Taking a child into care will always be one of the hardest decisions that we have to take. We must make sure that our decision-making, practice, and the services we provide to children, young people and their families is of the highest quality possible. Tackling this challenge requires us to bridge the gap between research and practice and learn from what works.

Promoting the Wellbeing of Children in Care brings together messages from the latest research about children in care in one place and sets out a range of practical ways to improve the effectiveness of our care system. Whether it's central to the general election or not, it's the responsibility of all of us to make sure that we give this the priority it deserves.

Promoting the Wellbeing of Children in Care: Messages from Research

Bringing together contributions from leading academics and practitioners from across the UK,  this book sets out findings from the latest research and its implications for how practice should be improved. 

It highlights the range of ways that care can positively help children and young people, by providing nurturing relationships, through specialist provision, and by supporting their development. However, it also demonstrates the change needed to ensure that we provide effective support for each and every child and young person in care.

Each chapter contains specific recommendations, including how we can:

  • improve safeguarding in fostering and residential care
  • tackle abuse (including abuse by peers)
  • improve the mental health of children in care
  • address the challenges of transitions in and out of care  ̶  from entry into care, returning home, and supporting care leavers with transitions to adulthood. 

Find out more and download the book

Our work with children in care