More than 50% of children referred to children’s services in the 2010-11 financial year were re-referred by the end of 2014-15, a new study commissioned by the Department for Education has shown.
The research report, authored by Manchester University’s Dr Patricio Troncoso, is based on a study of 498,867 children referred in 2010-11, within 145 local authorities. It goes on to conduct more detailed modelling based on a subset of 90,209 children within 144 local authorities.
By 2015-16, the end of the research period, 54.5% of the 366,196 children still eligible by age had been re-referred at least once.
“Re-referrals can be costly to local authorities, but more importantly, they can be stressful and harmful to the children themselves, as well as to their parents or guardians,” the report said.
“Potentially, multiple referrals can be detrimental to children’s development, as they may imply prolonged periods of unmet needs and recurrent episodes of abuse, neglect, maltreatment, etc.”
The study found that in authorities where social workers had more than 10 child in need cases on their hands, the probability of children being re-referred rose sharply as overall referral rates increased.
“This illustrates how re-referral might be related to the capacity of local authorities to handle cases at first referral,” the report said. “Simply put, if local authorities lack capacity to deal with referral cases, as they might be short-staffed, more children would return for a repeated referral, as their needs might have not been assessed or addressed adequately.”
The paper acknowledged that this finding was “not conclusive” and that other factors such as those picked up in Ofsted reports were also likely to play a part.
Among a series of other findings, the report noted:
- More than 40,000 were re-referred in at least three of the six years of the study.
- Children who had been stepped down as needing no further action in their first referral (starting episode of need) are 1.34 times as likely to be re-referred as children who had not been stepped down as needing no further action.
- Children with disabilities were notably more likely to return to the children’s services system than their non-disabled peers. Up to the age of 13, the study found that children with disabilities had around a 60% likelihood of re-referral, as opposed to less than 50% for all other children. But the report also noted that “when the primary [referral] need of a child is disability, they are markedly less likely to be re-referred, as they will probably continue different pathways to care for their
- Over the five years of the study period, about half of children were re-referred for the same primary need as their initial referral, while half were re-referred for different primary needs. The most common primary needs were abuse and neglect, family dysfunction and family in acute distress.
- 10% of children who were at some point taken into care subsequently had a separate second period.
The report acknowledged a number of potential limitations to its findings; for example that it had only focused on one cohort of children, that thresholds may be applied differently within different local authorities and that it had not considered instances of children being re-referred multiple times within any given financial year.
It suggested a number of avenues for follow-up work, such as analysing the time periods between children’s episodes of need and re-referral, and investigating links between deprivation and ethnicity and the likelihood of re-referral.
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