Looked-after children who are sent home and returned to care are costing the government £300m, according to research.
Over 10,000 children are returned home from care every year, however it is estimated that 30-60% of these reunifications fail, meaning children are then moved back to care, at great human and financial cost.
This process costs an estimated £300m, according to a study by the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University, commissioned by the NSPCC. The costs include social work costs, legal costs, decision-making and placement costs.
However, the researchers found that a £56m investment in providing effective support for families when a child returns from care could reduce the number of reunification breakdowns.
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. The Department for Education needs to strengthen the rules so that both children and families get the help they need.”
The report revealed support for a family with a low level of need could be just under £3,000 a year, while the estimated average annual cost for each child who returns to care following a reunification is just over £60,000.
Rahilly said: “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.”
Social workers and other support services should be given a clear framework for planning the support needs of the child and their family after a period in care to help ensure more successful reunifications in the future, he said.
Responding to the findings Helen Keaney, practice support team manager at The Fostering Network, said: “We must look at providing a support package for families as a whole which is both effective and cost-effective, providing the most positive outcomes for all involved.”
Keaney added: “Supporting families when a child is reintroduced to their home can make both the child and family feel more secure and able to cope with the situation.