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Local authorities say placing children in residential care far from home can help stop risky behaviour but more needs to be done

New research by the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) at the Institute of Education with the Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) at Loughborough University has found that whilst costs are a key consideration in deciding where to place children, finding a placement to meet the child’s assessed needs is of greater concern.

In 2012, 4,890 children were accommodated in residential children’s homes. Almost half of these (46%) were placed outside the local authority area. Placements were intended to secure specialist provision for children with complex disabilities or severe mental health issues. These needs cannot always be met within the local authority.

Recent reports have identified children placed in residential care outside their home area as a particular at risk group but despite this local authorities say they are placing children in residential care outside of their area to help break patterns of risky behaviour such as child sexual exploitation, offending behaviour, gangs and guns.

Charlie Owen, TCRU, said: “A number of reports have expressed concern over the vulnerability of teenage girls being placed in children’s homes a long way from their communities. We found that local authorities accounted for out of area placements in terms of either meeting specialist needs or to move children from the local area to break the cycle of risky behaviour. However, more needs to be done to ensure the safety of these children a long way from home.”

The report, led by the TCRU at the Institution of Education, is part of the DfE funded Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre’s work and seeks to promote an improved understanding of the children’s residential care market.  The Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre is a partnership between the TCRU and other centres at the Institute of Education, CCFR at Loughborough University and the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) at the University of Kent.

The report also found that:

  • In situations where children are placed a long way from home, local authorities encounter a range of additional challenges and issues as they try to protect and promote their welfare.
  • Where local authorities receive children placed from outside their area, there are resource implications for a range of agencies, including children’s services, schools, pupil referral units, the police, youth offending teams, health services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Messages for policy and practice:

  • The current system of information sharing between placing and receiving authorities was found to be poor and weak. Measures should be taken to strengthen the system so that all parties are clear about where children are placed and respective roles and responsibilities for protecting and promoting their welfare.
  • Findings support proposals to amend the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 (as amended) and the Care Standards Act (Registration) (England) Regulations 2010 to improve collaboration between children’s homes and services in local communities and to strengthen Ofsted’s inspection regime.

For further details contact Emily Brewer 020 7911 5501 or Rowan Walker 020 7911 5423.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 14/03

  • This study was carried out by the Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre. It was led by Emily Munro from the Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London with assistance from Sam McDermid of the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University.  The study involved interviews with 15 local authorities across the UK. It is a companion study to DfE Children’s Homes Data Pack led from TCRU by Senior Researcher Charlie Owen, and which analysed statistical data from DfE and Ofsted: homes data pack 2013.PDF

  • The Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre is led jointly by Professor Ann Phoenix (TCRU) and Professor Harriet Ward (CCFR).
  • The Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) at the Institute of Education carries out research related to children and young people in and outside their families. This includes care, education, health and social service settings.  With a research income of around £2 million per year, TCRU runs government funded research programmes, provides expert advice to policy makers, and develops successful dissemination strategies at both national and international levels. TCRU’s staff are world leading experts in the areas of early childhood education and care, children's workforce studies, parenting and family life, qualitative and cross-national methodologies.
  • The Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) is an independent research unit directed by Professor Harriet Ward, and based in the School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences at Loughborough University. Established in 2001, CCFR has an international reputation for high quality, policy relevant research. CCFR research is funded by a wide range of government departments, regional and local public agencies, charities and other organisations. In addition to major research projects, upon request CCFR also undertakes short-term, small scale and urgent pieces of responsive research and development. Its research has both national and international influence and provides the evidence base for the development of a wide range of policy initiatives to respond to diverse issues with an emphasis on those related to vulnerable children and their families.
  • Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines. It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year title in 2008-09 and has been named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and has been voted England's Best Student Experience for six years running in the Times Higher Education league. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.



Alison Barlow
Senior PR Officer
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228696

Emily Brewer
T: 020 7911 5501

Rowan Walker
T: 020 7911 5423

PR team

Telephone: 01509 222224