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Lack of support for children returning home from care urgently needs addressing

New research undertaken by Loughborough University for the NSPCC shows that the Government is spending £300 million a year as a result of the breakdown of children’s return home from care.

By contrast the research, undertaken by the University’s Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR), shows that improving support for these children when they return home would cost an estimated £56 million. 

Every year more than 10,000 children are returned home from care.  Although this can be the best outcome, research shows that almost half of reunifications break down, resulting in children returning to care. In far too many cases, children are not provided with the support they need to remain safely at home - an issue which needs to be urgently addressed.

The report shows that a substantial amount of money (£300 million) is spent each year as a consequence of failed reunifications. Conversely, the cost of ensuring that children returning home from care and their families are provided with effective support through social and health care is significantly less (£56 million) and could reduce reunification breakdown rates.

Tom Rahilly, head of looked after children at the NSPCC said: “Given around half of children who return home from care end up going back into care again, the support we provide to these families urgently needs rethinking.

We’re calling for an entitlement to support for children and their families, when they return home from care. The Department for Education needs to strengthen the rules so that both children and families get the help they need. The Government consulted on this issue last November 2013 and the moral and financial cost of delay in taking action needs to be considered. They must be clear about the action they are going to take.

“Repeatedly moving in and out of care can profoundly damage our most vulnerable children, compounding and intensifying the traumatic experiences and difficulties they face. It is clear that there are gaps in services to help to tackle drug or alcohol problems, mental health provision and parenting support.

“By addressing these issues and providing social workers and other services with a clear framework to use when planning the support needs of both the child and their family after a period of time in care, we can ensure that more successful reunifications take place in the future and we hope the report will help local authorities in planning for this.”

Lisa Holmes, Director of CCFR comments: “This study has made use of our wider programme of research focused on exploring the costs and outcomes of children’s social care services. Using these unit costs and developing a series of assumptions based on an existing research evidence base it has been possible to estimate the costs to the public purse if services to support reunification are provided to all children and families following a care episode and compare these costs with the costs associated with re-entry to care. It is envisaged that this report will instigate local and national debates about the importance of proving appropriate support  and services to families on return home from care.”

As part of ongoing work in the area, the NSPCC is currently piloting its “Taking Care” service in partnership with nine local authorities. The service uses the lessons from research to see how support for children and families can be improved. The only reunification practice project in the UK, the service is a new approach to assessment, decision-making, planning and review in relation to children returning home from care. It aims to give social workers and families a clear framework to use when deciding if a child should return home from care, and planning the support needs of both child and family when they do.