Planning for different care groups
Local authorities need to ensure that their provisions match the variety of children they look after. Different approaches will be appropriate for different groups, whether this be adoption, return home or a particular kind of care. For example, “adolescent graduates” are likely to need permanent options within the care system, perhaps with the opportunity to remain after the age of 18 if they are well settled. Those first entering care over 11 are more likely to view their own family as their base, and need support to help them return home or (particularly in the case of children seeking asylum) to use the care system as a launch pad to independent living. Local authorities could make better use of the data in their children’s information systems to identify the characteristics of their looked after children, and to plan services to meet their varying needs.
Focusing on the quality of care
The research highlights the importance of developing ways to influence the quality of placements, since this appeared to be the crucial factor related to children’s well-being. Putting the greatest possible emphasis on quality of placements, both in commissioning and quality assurance, is more likely to lead to better outcomes for children than the attention and effort which the councils in the study were putting into restructuring the organisation of children’s services.
Support for abused adolescents
These were some of the most troubled and challenging young people in the care system, with a high level of placement breakdowns and disruption. The study highlighted their need for more support, such as ‘treatment foster care’, short-term accommodation both for crisis situations and as planned respite, and the development of adolescent support teams.
Support for returning home
Given the high rate of failed returns, and the negative impact of this on children, councils need to ensure that children are not returned home without a clear agreed plan for dealing with the problems that brought them into care.
Increasing the use of family-and-friends care
More use could be made of care by friends and family, since these placements lasted longer than others and children in them had higher well-being scores. However social workers often had concerns about the quality of such placements and the strains placed on the carers, who need adequate support.