What’s At Stake

/What’s At Stake
What’s At Stake 2019-02-21T18:14:13+00:00

Looked-after Children 

An overwhelming majority of the 94,000 young people in the UK in care face dreadful outcomes as care leavers, often determined by their experiences both prior to and during their care settings. The number of children Looked-after due to abuse or neglect is at the highest level ever recorded in both England and NI and the second highest in Wales; since the ‘Baby P’ case in 2007 the number of Looked-after Children in England has risen from 60,000 to almost 73,000.  There was a 13% rise in the number of Looked-after Children between 2013 and 2017, with 72,670 children Looked-after in England (March 2017)[1].  With a fairly even split between males (56%) and females (44%), the DfE estimates that 62% of these Looked-after Children go into care as a consequence of abuse or neglect (Wales = 67.5%) while Conti et al., (NSPCC, 2017[2]) report that 93% of Looked-after Children have suffered abuse or neglect.  In England, there are currently 66,380 children looked-after due to neglect or abuse.

Current data supports the concern that only 6% of Looked-after Children enter University in the UK and only 4% graduate[3]. GCSE outcomes are among the key predictors for university entry and for Looked-after Children are significant barriers to university careers.  Such painfully poor outcomes[4] are almost guaranteed by widespread placement and school instability, and the resulting revolving door of inconsistent adults who are not sufficiently invested in these young peoples’ futures.  33% of Looked-after Children (age 10+) experience 2 or more placements in one year[5].  In 2016/17, 9,110 children had three or more placements – this represented 10.3% of Looked-after Children in England; 10.5% of Looked-after Children in Wales; 5% of Looked-after Children in NI; 5.4% of Looked-after Children in Scotland. Some Looked-after Children experience as many as 10 placements in one year (240), while the children most likely to have multiple placements (3 or more) are teenagers aged 13 – 16 years (13 yrs= 21%, 14 yrs = 22%, 15 yrs = 24%, 16 yrs = 21%)[6].  Long term foster care only provides stability for a minority of Looked-after Children, with only 17% remaining in the same placement for more than five years. The number of children who cease to be looked after is falling (-2% in 2017).  Of those leaving the care system before ageing out, 32% return to live with parents or relatives, yet 30% of these children return to care within 5 years[7].

Post compulsory education outcomes are equally shocking and the life opportunities for care leavers are significantly impacted by their experiences.  Approximately 25% of care leavers experience homelessness within the first 2 years of independence.  Changes in legislation ensure local authorities support more young people beyond the age of 18; however this is focused upon those in full time education, giving added impetus to the First Star Academies UK programme to support care leavers into higher education. This need is compounded by the recognised risk of incarceration, with care leavers making up 23% of the adult prison population and approximately 40% of prisoners under 21 (compared to 2% of the general population)[8].  Looked-after Children are four times as likely to have a mental health difficulty than their peers and are much more likely to have run away from home at some point in their lives than their peers.  A quarter of young women leaving care are pregnant or already mothers, with nearly half becoming mothers by age 24.

In real terms total spending on children’s services has fallen by 11% since 2009/2010[9].  Nevertheless, many children do have positive experiences in the care system and achieve good emotional and physical health, do well in their education and have good jobs and careers. However, entering care is strongly associated with poverty and deprivation (for example, low income, parental unemployment, relationship breakdown). Older children in care may also experience significant problems at school. For those children and young people who remain in long-term care creating a sense of belonging and emotional security is vital to their health and wellbeing.

[1]NSPCC 2018 https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-protection-system/children-in-care/statistics/  cited June 2018

[2]Conti, G, Morris, S., Melnychuk, M., & Pizzo, E.  (2017) the economic cost of child maltreatment in the UK: a preliminary study. London: NSPCC

[3]Department of Children and Families, July 2016. Keep on caring. Supporting Young People from Care to Independence. www.gov.uk/government/publications

[4]refer to FACTS – Looked-after Children’s outcomes- www.firststaruk.org

[5]NSPCC 2018 https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-protection-system/children-in-care/statistics/  cited June 2018

[6]Kelly, E., Lees T., Sibieta, L. & Waters, T. 2018 Public Spending on Children in England: 2000 to 2020.  Institute for Fiscal Studies. Children’s Commissioner June 2018

[7]Harrison, N. (2017) MOVING ON UP: Pathways of care leavers and care-experienced students into and through higher education. University of West of England, Bristol

[8]Williams, K., Papadopoulou, V. & Booth, N. 2012. Prisoners’ childhood and family backgrounds. Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) longitudinal cohort study of prisoners.  Ministry of Justice Research Series 4/12 March 2012

[9]NICE, Looked-after Children, public health guideline 19thOctober 2010

Financial Costs

Child abuse and neglect costs to the UK

  • £8,401,660,000 lifetime cost for current 94,000 Looked-after Children
  • £2.5 billion (estimated minimum) annual cost of child sexual abuse
  • £4 billion annual cost of Looked-after Children (children’s services)
  • £267,148,144 cost to criminal justice system (2015) of child maltreatment cases
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