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Transforming outcomes of services for vulnerable children
- International policy and practice substantially improved for children at risk of abuse and neglect
During the 1980s, children in care were regarded as a group for whom the state’s responsibilities were largely assumed to be confined to meeting their basic physical needs.
Pioneering research undertaken at Loughborough’s Centre for Family Research has had a substantial impact on the development of national and international policy and professional practice, helping to safeguard children from abuse and neglect as well as improving outcomes of care in terms of children’s developmental progress and capacity to meet their potential.
The research was undertaken through a series of studies involving cohorts of children looked after by local authorities, identified as suffering or likely to suffer significant harm or requiring multi-agency family support services.
The research found that it is possible to identify a range of basic parenting practices that are necessary to children’s successful development and that – with only minor variations – these are agreed on by diverse populations spanning Sweden, the UK, Canada and Australia, including aboriginal peoples.
Poor outcomes for children in care were found to be related to long-term experiences of maltreatment prior to entry, compounded by poor parenting practices within the system and care placements that are insufficiently specialist to meet needs which are exacerbated by early experiences of trauma. Delays in professional decision-making were also found to compromise children’s chances of being successfully placed in substitute care.
The cost of care was also considered. It was found that methodologies can be developed to enable agencies to calculate and compare costs and outcomes of various configurations of children’s services across different timescales.
EVIDENCING THE NEED FOR MORE EFFECTIVE SPECIALIST SERVICES
The research moved the debate beyond the provision of basic physical needs for vulnerable children and is providing policymakers and practitioners with evidence to support the need for specialist provision, proactive decisions and effective services for children in need.
WELLBEING OF CHILDREN IN NEED IMPROVED AROUND THE WORLD
The programme’s reach includes policymakers, practitioners and children and families receiving social care services in the UK, Australia, Canada, France, the Ukraine and the USA. Its national significance has been recognised by the award of a CBE for services to children and families to the programme lead, Professor Harriet Ward CBE.
HEALTH AND WELLBEING GUIDELINES REVISED
Revisions to the UK’s Health and Wellbeing of Looked After Children NICE guidelines, as well as guidance on the Children Act 1989, have been informed by the findings related to children’s extensive needs at entry to care, educational needs and the impact of unstable placements.
NSPCC PILOTS PRACTICE TOOL FOR ASSESSING RISKS
The research led to the development of a practice tool for assessing risks of future harm. This is being piloted by the NSPCC with practitioners in eight UK local authorities.
COST CALCULATOR FOR CHILDRENS SERVICES IN USE IN ENGLAND
Studies into the relationship between costs and outcomes for looked after children led to the construction of the Cost Calculator for Children’s Services – now developed as a computer application for use by agencies in England, and in the process of being adapted for use in Scotland. The underpinning methodology and tool is also being used by US researchers to measure changes in the child welfare system in California.