Nearly 60% of abused children are re-harmed within two years of being returned to their birth families, Bristol University research has found.
A five-year study by Bristol University followed 138 looked-after children who were returned to their parents during 2001.
Just two years later, 59% of the children had been abused or neglected, while almost half (48%) were abused or neglected over the next three years.
The study – which examined the case management, interventions and outcomes of the children across seven local authorities – found that two-fifths of children who were the subject of a child protection plan were not adequately safeguarded.
In three-fifths of cases plans made during care proceedings did not work out when the child was returned home.
Researchers found that a tendency for “abuse and neglect to be minimised”, and neglect “marginalised”, over time meant sufficient safeguarding action was not taken. An “over-optimistic view of parental capacity by guardians and expert assessors” was also cited as a key factor.
Following their return home, subsequent referrals were made about the safety or welfare of almost three-quarters (73%) of the children. Of those referrals, insufficient safeguarding action was taken in three-fifths of cases.
The study authors said in just over half (51%) of the cases a “clear focus on important issues had not been maintained at times by children’s services”, including key family problems such as parental alcohol and drugs misuse, domestic violence and mental health problems.
Outcomes for younger children were found to be much better than those for children over the age of six. Parents of older children received less support, with no support being provided at all in one-fifth of cases.
The authors highlighted the need for local authorities to become “more proactive” and to find ways to “interrupt the processes” which lead to instances of neglect and abuse being minimised.