Looking After Children in the UK—Convergence or Divergence?

Looking After Children in the UK—Convergence or Divergence? Abstract Comparative child welfare administrative data from each of the four jurisdictions of the UK (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland (NI) and Wales) were analysed over a ten-year period to examine rates and patterns of public care. Scotland followed by Wales has the highest rates of children in out-of-home care, followed by England and NI with similar lower proportions. Despite strong links between deprivation and higher chances of becoming looked after, this national variation appears more a reflection of differing legal and operational practice than higher levels of need for public care. Notwithstanding differing devolution settlements, a convergence in the direction of policy across the UK towards early intervention, extensive use of kinship care and adoption as an exit route from public care is apparent. This convergence is most apparent in the increased entry of very young children to public care in Scotland, NI and Wales. The lack of any systematic collection of data by governments on the social and economic conditions of children reflects a missed opportunity to examine separately their influence on rates of children in public care. Looked after children, out-of-home care, child welfare, deprivation, child protection, childcare Introduction Children in public care and the capacity of public institutions to safeguard and promote their security, stability and opportunity remain a central focus for global and regional policy development. Contemporary Western states provide for the separation of children from their family of origin when this is in the child’s interests through both voluntary and compulsory mechanisms. Children in out-of-home care therefore represent a relatively well defined population generally captured effectively within child welfare administrative data. Cross-national comparison employing such data can provide insight into the potential impact of policy on rates, demographic characteristics and outcomes for these children, although caution in interpretation and comparison is a necessity to guard against inapt or mistaken conclusions on policy success (Thoburn, 2007). This paper draws on comparative child welfare administrative data from each of the four jurisdictions of the UK (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland (NI) and Wales) over a ten-year period to inform an interpretive enquiry into patterns of public care involvement. It is a companion piece to a comparable analysis of official child protection data (Bunting et al., under review). Identifying the ‘appropriate’ number of children in public care remains troublesome for policy makers. Examining comparative rates of looked after children illuminates the impact of policy and legal contexts as one element in a complex network of socio-economic, institutional and individual influences. The UK provides an ideal case study to examine the potential impact of diversity in child welfare policy, for three main reasons. First, broadly similar social and economic conditions prevail, setting a relatively uniform context to policy development. Second, differing approaches to welfare policy, already present for thirty years, have increased following devolution, with more universalist approaches, at least in Scotland and Wales, that prioritise social citizenship over consumerism (Keating, 2012). Third, it represents an opportunity to address limited cross-UK policy learning (Keating et al., 2012) and to contribute towards greater understanding of how child welfare systems produce differential rates and responses to children’s need for public care. Trends are examined in relation to the legislative and policy context pertaining to looked after children in each of the four UK jurisdictions. Many Western states provide for degrees of multi-level governance (e.g. federalism in Germany or devolved administrations as in the UK). These locate responsibility for areas of public policy making (Hallett and Hazel, 1998) at different levels and are in themselves influenced by supranational institutional organisations including the United Nations (UN) and the European Union. In the UK, devolution settlements in 1999 created three separate parliaments/assemblies (Scotland, NI and Wales) with differential jurisdictional powers but all capable (from 2006 in Wales) of delivering primary and secondary legislation and deriving independent policy agendas in health, social services and education—key strategic areas for child welfare. In these areas, legislative powers for England reside with the UK parliament and policy development within separate government departments. National legislative and policy context In England, the 1989 Children Act, albeit amended, remains the underpinning legislative foundation of the child welfare system and, in NI, equivalent legislation is found in the Children (NI) Order 1995. In April 2016, the 2014 Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act replaced many of the child welfare provisions previously found in the 1989 Children Act. Within the 1989 Children Act and the Children (NI) Order, the term ‘looked after’ refers to children and young people under the age of eighteen years who live away from their parents or family and are supervised by a local authority social worker. A ‘looked after’ child may either be accommodated by the local authority (at parental request, with parental consent or in the absence of parents) or be subject to an order made by family courts in order to protect the child from significant harm. This definition is retained in the 2014 Welsh Act (section 74). In Scotland, the 1995 Children (Scotland) Act and the 2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act underpin the child welfare system. England, Wales and NI have court-based systems for child welfare and address the needs of children who offend in separate youth justice courts (Bottoms and Dignan, 2004). In Scotland, a unitary jurisdiction integrates child welfare and youth justice decision making within a system of lay tribunals (Children’s Hearings System); children’s underlying needs and circumstances are considered similar regardless of legal classification. Children’s hearings are intended to encourage a non-adversarial approach to facilitate discussion of child welfare issues between parents, children and panel members—the citizen volunteers who are the decision makers (McGhee, 2011). Courts remain the primary decision-making forum when adoption and permanence decisions are required and where there is immediate risk of significant harm albeit these latter cases are promptly transferred to the children’s hearings for ongoing consideration. Children’s hearings decide whether a child is in need of compulsory measures of supervision (CSO)—a legal order that is not available in other UK jurisdictions. The legal basis for a CSO provides for a broader range of concerns than child protection and additionally includes the need for guidance, treatment or control. CSOs may permit a child either to remain at home with his/her family (discouraged in recent policy; Scottish Government, 2015) or it may place the child in out-of-home care (McGhee, 2011). Children in out-of-home care and those who remain at home with their families receiving support by virtue of a compulsory supervision order are defined as ‘looked after’ in Scotland. See Table 1 for a summary of policy and law. Table 1 Policy and law: summary Key legislation Decision-making fora Looked after children—definitions Adoption—interim measures England 1989 Children Act Family and Youth Courts Children in out-of-home care supervised by local authority Placement orders Wales 2014 Social Services and Well-Being Act Family and Youth Courts As above Placement orders Northern Ireland Children (NI) Order 1989 Family and Youth Courts As above Freeing orders Scotland 1995 Children (Scotland) Act/2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act Lay tribunal—children’s hearings Court primarily for permanency measures As above and includes children on Compulsory Supervision Orders living at home Permanence orders with authority to adopt Key legislation Decision-making fora Looked after children—definitions Adoption—interim measures England 1989 Children Act Family and Youth Courts Children in out-of-home care supervised by local authority Placement orders Wales 2014 Social Services and Well-Being Act Family and Youth Courts As above Placement orders Northern Ireland Children (NI) Order 1989 Family and Youth Courts As above Freeing orders Scotland 1995 Children (Scotland) Act/2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act Lay tribunal—children’s hearings Court primarily for permanency measures As above and includes children on Compulsory Supervision Orders living at home Permanence orders with authority to adopt Table 1 Policy and law: summary Key legislation Decision-making fora Looked after children—definitions Adoption—interim measures England 1989 Children Act Family and Youth Courts Children in out-of-home care supervised by local authority Placement orders Wales 2014 Social Services and Well-Being Act Family and Youth Courts As above Placement orders Northern Ireland Children (NI) Order 1989 Family and Youth Courts As above Freeing orders Scotland 1995 Children (Scotland) Act/2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act Lay tribunal—children’s hearings Court primarily for permanency measures As above and includes children on Compulsory Supervision Orders living at home Permanence orders with authority to adopt Key legislation Decision-making fora Looked after children—definitions Adoption—interim measures England 1989 Children Act Family and Youth Courts Children in out-of-home care supervised by local authority Placement orders Wales 2014 Social Services and Well-Being Act Family and Youth Courts As above Placement orders Northern Ireland Children (NI) Order 1989 Family and Youth Courts As above Freeing orders Scotland 1995 Children (Scotland) Act/2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act Lay tribunal—children’s hearings Court primarily for permanency measures As above and includes children on Compulsory Supervision Orders living at home Permanence orders with authority to adopt Permanency and kinship care In all four jurisdictions, there is separate adoption legislation and varied public and private law measures to secure children in long-term alternate care, primarily through adoption, foster or kinship care arrangements. Although Scotland has enshrined the concept of permanency within legislation, it remains a core theme of policy and legislative development across the UK (NIHSCB, 2010; DfE, 2010; Scottish Government, 2011, 2015). In England and Wales, for example, the 2008 Children and Young Persons Act and Care Planning Guidance (DfE, 2010) requires that there should be an agreed permanence plan for all children who are accommodated or in care. Early intervention, another common theme of child welfare policy across the UK (Davidson et al., 2012), is central to policy development for looked after children in all four jurisdictions (Scottish Government, 2015; DHSSPS, 2007; DfE, 2011) albeit in Wales this is couched in a general duty on local authorities to provide or arrange preventive services (Welsh Government, 2015). Kinship care is prioritised as the preferred placement choice in government policy across the UK (Selwyn and Nandy, 2013); however, different terminology and assessment processes are applied in each of the four jurisdictions (Murphy, 2014). In England, the term ‘family and friends care’ is used instead of kinship care and statutory guidance (DfE, 2011) differentiates informal family and friends care, where there is either no involvement from social services or the child is considered a child in need, from more formal arrangements where the child is looked after by the local authority. Although Welsh guidance refers to kinship care, it makes the same informal/formal differentiation and, in both England and Wales, non-relative foster-carers and relative/friend foster-carers are formally assessed against the same standards. NI and Scotland also use the term ‘kinship carers’ but assess and approve this group against specific standards for kinship care (DHSSPS, 2014; The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009, SSI/210). Financial regimes for kinship carers vary depending on whether the child is formally looked after by a local authority and variation in payment of allowances is not uncommon (see e.g. Wade et al., 2014; Kidner, 2012). Adoption, including non-consensual adoption, is available in all four jurisdictions. In England and Wales, this is primarily through placement orders, in NI through freeing orders, with or without parental consent. In NI, the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 still remains the legal basis for adoption processes, although consultation to update this legislation is ongoing. England has witnessed legislative reform to increase the number of children adopted and to speed up the process through the 2014 Children and Families Act. This act amended the 1989 Children Act to give greater priority to ‘fostering for adoption’ placement in cases where adoption is being considered for a child (similar arrangements are in place in Wales under section 81 of the 2014 Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act). This reflects a long-standing priority given to adoption for looked after children in English policy circles (Narey, 2011). Concurrent planning processes (DfE, 2011) increasingly underpin adoption processes. This involves placing children, typically infants and younger children, with carers who are approved as both foster-carers and adopters, whilst at the same time providing the birth family, usually those with the most complex and entrenched needs, with intensive, time-limited, rehabilitative support services. If rehabilitation is unsuccessful, then the foster-carer can go on to adopt the child. In Wales, a National Adoption Services has been launched to reduce delay in adoption processes (http://gov.wales/?view=Search+results&lang=en (accessed 12 September 2017)). Scottish legislation has undergone reform following a lengthy review process that culminated in the 2007 Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act. This act created a new legal order—a Permanence Order (intended to provide security of placement without resort to adoption). Permanence Orders with authority to Adopt (PO(A)) effectively replaced freeing orders; direct adoption petition remains. Both orders are permitted with and without parental consent. Variation also exists between UK jurisdictions regarding the use of special guardianship orders (SGOs) introduced through the 2002 Adoption and Children Act. This order provides a legal status for non-parents who wish to care for a child in a long-term secure placement and was implemented as an intermediate legal status offering greater security than long-term fostering without the absolute legal severance from the birth family associated with adoption. Although it was anticipated that SGOs would be primarily used where a child had developed a strong relationship with a foster-carer, since implementation, the majority of applicants have been family carers (Wade et al., 2014). Available only in England and Wales, once a SGO has been granted, the child is no longer defined as looked after in these countries. The Scottish Permanence Order differs from SGOs in that it allows not only the restriction of parental responsibility, but its removal where there is a grant of the authority to adopt and, unlike SGOs, a child subject to a Permanence Order remains looked after unless they are adopted or the order revoked. Residential settings In England, Wales and NI, child offenders in secure residential settings are considered and counted in official statistics as looked after by the relevant local authority; in Scotland, young people aged sixteen to seventeen years who receive offence-related custodial sentences are not counted in looked after children statistics unless they remain on compulsory measures of supervision; children aged eight to fifteen years referred to a children’s hearing on the offence ground and subsequently placed on supervision are counted as looked after children. In Scotland and Wales, diversion of young people who offend from formal systems is a key strategy (Scottish Government, 2008b; Jones, 2016). Pitts (2015) argues that, in England, a ‘pragmatic rediscovery of “diversion”’ (p. 37) through revision of a key performance indicator has seen a significant reduction in young people entering the youth justice system. All jurisdictions have developed policy to support care leavers in the transition from care to adulthood, including provision to remain in the same (or similar) care placements for longer periods (see e.g. Scottish Government, 2013; DfE, 2015). Method The data presented in this paper are derived from published administrative data. Where available, trend data for the years 2009/10–2014 are taken from the most recent publications (2013/14) while earlier data for the years 2005–08/09 are taken from 2008/09 publications. Where trend data are not available, statistics are sourced from individual annual publications and in one case direct aggregate data from a statistics authority. Likewise, where available, rates per 10,000 children published in official reports are used. Where these were not available, they are calculated using the 2005–14 mid-year population estimates for each of the nations (ONS, 2014). Findings are structured to examine rates of children in out-of-home care, the balance between voluntary and compulsory placements, entries and exit destinations. Previous work examining the comparability of official child welfare statistics (Munro et al., 2011) has shown that, despite the breadth and detail of statistical data collections in each jurisdiction, there are some limits on comparability. There is close alignment between data collections in England and Wales and greater divergence in data items and classifications used in Scotland and, to a lesser degree, NI. Building on the work of Munro et al. (2011) and further detailed review of each jurisdiction’s data collection documentation, the data presented are either identical or broadly comparable across the four parts of the UK. Any differing legal, statistical or data categorisations that might impact on comparability are highlighted and considered throughout the paper. Findings Comparing rates of looked after children All UK nations collect data on the number of children looked after (LAC) at the census date. In Scotland, the annual census date coincides with the school year (31 July) whilst, for the rest of the UK, it is 31 March. Over the past decade, Scotland has maintained a substantially and consistently higher rate of looked after children than all other UK nations (see Figure 1). As in Wales, the Scottish rates of looked after children have been steadily increasing over time, although this began to drop off from 2012. Rates in England and NI also show a slight upward trend over time. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Rates of looked after children at census date (2005–14) Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Rates of looked after children at census date (2005–14) The difference in looked after rates between Scotland and other UK nations can be partially explained by the operation of the Children’s Hearings System, which is unique to Scotland and which classifies children living with parents on a compulsory supervision order as looked after. This grouping represents a significant proportion of looked after children—just over a quarter (27 per cent) in 2014 (Scottish Government, 2014). In order to make LAC rates more comparable, statistical publications commonly calculate the rate of children looked after in out-of-home care through exclusion of Scottish data relating to children looked after at home. Using this method, although LAC rates for Scotland reduce significantly, they remain substantially higher than other UK nations (Figure 1—the dotted line represents Scottish rates of children looked after in out-of-home care). However, additional variation in available legal orders and use of different placement options may also contribute to differential rates between nations, as explored below. Placement type at the census date All nations collect data on the placement type of looked after children at the census date (see Table 2). While there are considerable variations in the degree of detail provided, six comparable groupings are available: Table 2. Placement type at census date (2005–14) (percentages) Foster placement/kinship care Adoption Placed with parents Residential care (regulated children’s homes) Other placement* Total Non-relative foster-care Relative/ friend foster-care England 2005 68 66 12 6 9 9 8 2006 69 57 12 5 9 9 8 2007 70 58 12 5 9 9 8 2008 71 60 11 5 8 9 8 2009 72 61 11 4 7 9 8 2010 73 62 11 4 7 8 9 2011 74 63 11 4 6 8 7 2012 75 64 11 4 5 8 7 2013 74 63 11 5 5 8 8 2014 75 64 11 5 5 8 7 Wales 2005 72 58 14 0 14 5 3 2006 74 60 14 0 12 5 4 2007 75 61 14 5 11 5 4 2008 75 61 14 5 12 5 4 2009 77 63 14 4 11 4 4 2010 78 62 16 4 9 4 4 2011 79 63 16 3 9 4 4 2012 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2013 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2014 77 62 15 5 9 4 5 Scotland 2005 42 28 14 1 43 6 7 2006 42 29 13 1 42 6 8 2007 44 29 15 2 43 6 6 2008 45 29 16 2 43 5 6 2009 49 29 20 2 39 5 6 2010 49 20 20 2 39 5 6 2011 50 30 20 2 39 4 5 2012 55 31 24 2 34 4 5 2013 58 33 25 2 32 4 5 2014 59 33 26 2 30 4 5 Northern Ireland 2005 2006 62 – – – 20 13 4 2007 59 – – – 24 12 5 2008 57 – – – 26 13 5 2009 65 – – – 19 13 3 2010 65 – – – 19 11 6 2011 74 46 29 1 10 10 6 2012 74 44 30 1 11 9 7 2013 75 44 31 1 12 8 5 2014 75 44 32 1 12 7 5 Foster placement/kinship care Adoption Placed with parents Residential care (regulated children’s homes) Other placement* Total Non-relative foster-care Relative/ friend foster-care England 2005 68 66 12 6 9 9 8 2006 69 57 12 5 9 9 8 2007 70 58 12 5 9 9 8 2008 71 60 11 5 8 9 8 2009 72 61 11 4 7 9 8 2010 73 62 11 4 7 8 9 2011 74 63 11 4 6 8 7 2012 75 64 11 4 5 8 7 2013 74 63 11 5 5 8 8 2014 75 64 11 5 5 8 7 Wales 2005 72 58 14 0 14 5 3 2006 74 60 14 0 12 5 4 2007 75 61 14 5 11 5 4 2008 75 61 14 5 12 5 4 2009 77 63 14 4 11 4 4 2010 78 62 16 4 9 4 4 2011 79 63 16 3 9 4 4 2012 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2013 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2014 77 62 15 5 9 4 5 Scotland 2005 42 28 14 1 43 6 7 2006 42 29 13 1 42 6 8 2007 44 29 15 2 43 6 6 2008 45 29 16 2 43 5 6 2009 49 29 20 2 39 5 6 2010 49 20 20 2 39 5 6 2011 50 30 20 2 39 4 5 2012 55 31 24 2 34 4 5 2013 58 33 25 2 32 4 5 2014 59 33 26 2 30 4 5 Northern Ireland 2005 2006 62 – – – 20 13 4 2007 59 – – – 24 12 5 2008 57 – – – 26 13 5 2009 65 – – – 19 13 3 2010 65 – – – 19 11 6 2011 74 46 29 1 10 10 6 2012 74 44 30 1 11 9 7 2013 75 44 31 1 12 8 5 2014 75 44 32 1 12 7 5 * Other placement includes other residential settings, secure units, hostels, community placements, residential schools, non-regulated homes/hostels, etc. Table 2. Placement type at census date (2005–14) (percentages) Foster placement/kinship care Adoption Placed with parents Residential care (regulated children’s homes) Other placement* Total Non-relative foster-care Relative/ friend foster-care England 2005 68 66 12 6 9 9 8 2006 69 57 12 5 9 9 8 2007 70 58 12 5 9 9 8 2008 71 60 11 5 8 9 8 2009 72 61 11 4 7 9 8 2010 73 62 11 4 7 8 9 2011 74 63 11 4 6 8 7 2012 75 64 11 4 5 8 7 2013 74 63 11 5 5 8 8 2014 75 64 11 5 5 8 7 Wales 2005 72 58 14 0 14 5 3 2006 74 60 14 0 12 5 4 2007 75 61 14 5 11 5 4 2008 75 61 14 5 12 5 4 2009 77 63 14 4 11 4 4 2010 78 62 16 4 9 4 4 2011 79 63 16 3 9 4 4 2012 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2013 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2014 77 62 15 5 9 4 5 Scotland 2005 42 28 14 1 43 6 7 2006 42 29 13 1 42 6 8 2007 44 29 15 2 43 6 6 2008 45 29 16 2 43 5 6 2009 49 29 20 2 39 5 6 2010 49 20 20 2 39 5 6 2011 50 30 20 2 39 4 5 2012 55 31 24 2 34 4 5 2013 58 33 25 2 32 4 5 2014 59 33 26 2 30 4 5 Northern Ireland 2005 2006 62 – – – 20 13 4 2007 59 – – – 24 12 5 2008 57 – – – 26 13 5 2009 65 – – – 19 13 3 2010 65 – – – 19 11 6 2011 74 46 29 1 10 10 6 2012 74 44 30 1 11 9 7 2013 75 44 31 1 12 8 5 2014 75 44 32 1 12 7 5 Foster placement/kinship care Adoption Placed with parents Residential care (regulated children’s homes) Other placement* Total Non-relative foster-care Relative/ friend foster-care England 2005 68 66 12 6 9 9 8 2006 69 57 12 5 9 9 8 2007 70 58 12 5 9 9 8 2008 71 60 11 5 8 9 8 2009 72 61 11 4 7 9 8 2010 73 62 11 4 7 8 9 2011 74 63 11 4 6 8 7 2012 75 64 11 4 5 8 7 2013 74 63 11 5 5 8 8 2014 75 64 11 5 5 8 7 Wales 2005 72 58 14 0 14 5 3 2006 74 60 14 0 12 5 4 2007 75 61 14 5 11 5 4 2008 75 61 14 5 12 5 4 2009 77 63 14 4 11 4 4 2010 78 62 16 4 9 4 4 2011 79 63 16 3 9 4 4 2012 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2013 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2014 77 62 15 5 9 4 5 Scotland 2005 42 28 14 1 43 6 7 2006 42 29 13 1 42 6 8 2007 44 29 15 2 43 6 6 2008 45 29 16 2 43 5 6 2009 49 29 20 2 39 5 6 2010 49 20 20 2 39 5 6 2011 50 30 20 2 39 4 5 2012 55 31 24 2 34 4 5 2013 58 33 25 2 32 4 5 2014 59 33 26 2 30 4 5 Northern Ireland 2005 2006 62 – – – 20 13 4 2007 59 – – – 24 12 5 2008 57 – – – 26 13 5 2009 65 – – – 19 13 3 2010 65 – – – 19 11 6 2011 74 46 29 1 10 10 6 2012 74 44 30 1 11 9 7 2013 75 44 31 1 12 8 5 2014 75 44 32 1 12 7 5 * Other placement includes other residential settings, secure units, hostels, community placements, residential schools, non-regulated homes/hostels, etc. non-relative foster placement; relative/friend foster-care/kinship care placement; adoption; placement with parents; residential care (regulated children’s homes); other placement type—includes other residential settings, secure units, hostels, community placements, residential schools, non-regulated homes/hostels, etc. Adoption is used in only a small minority of cases across the UK but there are national differences. This placement option accounts for 0–1 per cent of placements at the census date in Scotland and NI, compared to 5–6 per cent in England and Wales. The majority of placements in England and Wales and NI are in foster-care, although three in ten of these involve kinship placements in NI compared to 11–15 per cent in England and Wales. Given the different thresholds and mechanisms for assessing and approving non-relative foster-care/kinship care across nations, arguably this is not a comparison of like with like. One way to take account of varying operational practice on overall looked after rates is to exclude both those placed in kinship/relative foster-care and those looked after at home, focusing instead on children for whom the local authority provide accommodation. As Figure 2 demonstrates, this reduces the rate of LAC at the census date across all countries; it has a much more substantial impact on Scottish statistics, giving an ‘accommodated’ rate which is similar to that of Wales (Figure 2). It also shows that NI has a much lower ‘accommodated’ rate—almost half that of either Wales or Scotland. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Rates of looked after children per 10,000 accommodated by local authorities (2005–14) Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Rates of looked after children per 10,000 accommodated by local authorities (2005–14) Voluntary and compulsory measures Each UK jurisdiction collects data on the legal status of looked after children at the census date, although the range and level of detail provided vary considerably and several orders are specific to certain jurisdictions, such as CSOs in Scotland. However, the legislation in each nation provides for children to become accommodated by local authorities on a ‘voluntary basis’ as a form of family support, allowing comparison of the use of voluntary measures versus compulsory measures across the UK. The data show that both England and NI have the same relatively high proportions—approximately three in ten looked after children in ‘voluntary’ placements, although this has decreased in recent years. Whilst Welsh figures for 2005 were higher than any other nation during the ten-year time period, these have decreased ever since and now account for one in five of placements. Scottish figures have been consistently lower, at roughly one in ten, although changes in data collection practices mean than reliable data are not available for 2009–12 (see Figure 3). Lower Scottish rates, highlighted above, will also be affected by the wider use of placements with parents and kinship care in this jurisdiction. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Proportion of looked after children ‘voluntarily’ accommodated across the UK (2005–14) Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Proportion of looked after children ‘voluntarily’ accommodated across the UK (2005–14) Admissions to care during the year All UK nations collect data on the number of admissions to care during the year, which can provide a more current overview of practice. As Figure 4 shows, admissions to public care have remained fairly stable in Wales and NI but have been steadily increasing in England, particularly since 2008, while Scotland has seen a slight reduction since 2010. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Admissions to care during the year (2005–14) Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Admissions to care during the year (2005–14) All nations disaggregate admission to care data by age and, despite variation in the age grouping used, two trends are apparent. First, in Scotland, Wales and NI, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of young children under five years old entering public care (see Figure 5; primarily driven at least in Scotland and Wales by a proportionate increase in children aged less than one year). NI has seen a proportionate increase in both age groups. Scottish data will include children looked after at home, reflecting the use of compulsory supervision as an alternate to registration as a child protection measure. England, in contrast, has a relatively stable proportion of new entrants under five years old and an increase in young people aged sixteen years or older: from 7 per cent in 2005 to 16 per cent in 2015. Figure 5 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged from birth to four years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) Figure 5 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged from birth to four years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) The proportion of primary-aged children has remained relatively stable in all four jurisdictions (see Figure 6). Figure 6 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged five to nine/five to eleven years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) Figure 6 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged five to nine/five to eleven years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) The second similar trend in all four jurisdictions has been the substantial reduction in the proportion of early adolescent children. Notwithstanding data are not gathered for the exactly similar age ranges across the UK, this broad pattern is evident. In Scotland and NI, the proportion of twelve-to-fifteen-year-olds reduced from 38 per cent to 29 per cent and 36 per cent to 22 per cent, respectively. In England and Wales, similar reductions can be seen for the ten-to-fifteen-year-old age group (see Figure 7). Figure 7 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged ten to fifteen/twelve to fifteen years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) Figure 7 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged ten to fifteen/twelve to fifteen years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) Discharges from care during the year Data on destinations following discharges from care during the year are collected across all four UK jurisdictions. While there are variations in the categorisations used, five comparable groupings are available: adoption; returned home to live with parents, relatives or friends or someone with parental responsibility (including residence orders); special guardianship order; independent living, including both supported and unsupported; other—including those who died, were sentenced to custody, were transferred to adult social care, taken into care by another LA or whose destination was unknown. All nations publish data on the number of children adopted. As Table 3 highlights, Scotland has a consistently lowest proportion of children adopted from care, followed by NI, while England and Wales have higher proportions (11–17 per cent). Numbers of children returned to the care of parents/friends or relatives account for the largest proportion of discharges across all nations, although these have been decreasing over time in England and Wales whilst, in Scotland, they have been increasing. The data also show that SGOs, available only in England and Wales, increasingly account for a significant minority of discharges from care: 11 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively, in 2014. Table 3 Discharges from care during the year by destination (percentages) (2005–14) Adopted Returned home to live with parents/ relatives/friends or on residence order Special guardianship Former foster parents Independent living Other England 2005 20 47 11 27 2006 14 46 0 – 13 27 2007 13 45 1 – 14 25 2008 13 43 4 – 14 25 2009 13 42 5 – 13 27 2010 13 43 5 – 13 26 2011 11 42 6 – 13 27 2012 13 42 8 – 14 25 2013 14 41 10 – 14 22 2014 17 41 11 – 12 20 Wales* 15 56 – – 11 19 16 56 – – 10 18 16 53 2 – 12 16 14 43 4 – 13 25 16 41 4 – 14 25 14 46 4 – 13 23 15 44 5 – 13 22 15 43 8 – 14 20 17 41 9 – 11 21 17 37 14 – 11 21 Scotland 2005 3 63 – 0 5 29 2006 3 65 – 0 5 27 2007 3 61 – 0 5 31 2008 3 60 – 1 6 30 2009 5 75 – 2 5 14 2010 5 74 – 2 6 14 2011 6 73 – 1 6 14 2012 6 80 – 1 5 7 2013 6 81 – 1 6 5 2014 7 80 – 2 6 5 Northern Ireland 2005 10 – – – – – 2006 7 – – – – – 2007 7 – – – – – 2008 7 – – – – – 2009 6 – – – – – 2010 6 – – – – – 2011 7 – – – – – 2012 8 – – – – – 2013 10 – – – – – Adopted Returned home to live with parents/ relatives/friends or on residence order Special guardianship Former foster parents Independent living Other England 2005 20 47 11 27 2006 14 46 0 – 13 27 2007 13 45 1 – 14 25 2008 13 43 4 – 14 25 2009 13 42 5 – 13 27 2010 13 43 5 – 13 26 2011 11 42 6 – 13 27 2012 13 42 8 – 14 25 2013 14 41 10 – 14 22 2014 17 41 11 – 12 20 Wales* 15 56 – – 11 19 16 56 – – 10 18 16 53 2 – 12 16 14 43 4 – 13 25 16 41 4 – 14 25 14 46 4 – 13 23 15 44 5 – 13 22 15 43 8 – 14 20 17 41 9 – 11 21 17 37 14 – 11 21 Scotland 2005 3 63 – 0 5 29 2006 3 65 – 0 5 27 2007 3 61 – 0 5 31 2008 3 60 – 1 6 30 2009 5 75 – 2 5 14 2010 5 74 – 2 6 14 2011 6 73 – 1 6 14 2012 6 80 – 1 5 7 2013 6 81 – 1 6 5 2014 7 80 – 2 6 5 Northern Ireland 2005 10 – – – – – 2006 7 – – – – – 2007 7 – – – – – 2008 7 – – – – – 2009 6 – – – – – 2010 6 – – – – – 2011 7 – – – – – 2012 8 – – – – – 2013 10 – – – – – * Excludes data categorised as ‘episode ceases and new episode begins on same or next day’, as these children remain looked after. Table 3 Discharges from care during the year by destination (percentages) (2005–14) Adopted Returned home to live with parents/ relatives/friends or on residence order Special guardianship Former foster parents Independent living Other England 2005 20 47 11 27 2006 14 46 0 – 13 27 2007 13 45 1 – 14 25 2008 13 43 4 – 14 25 2009 13 42 5 – 13 27 2010 13 43 5 – 13 26 2011 11 42 6 – 13 27 2012 13 42 8 – 14 25 2013 14 41 10 – 14 22 2014 17 41 11 – 12 20 Wales* 15 56 – – 11 19 16 56 – – 10 18 16 53 2 – 12 16 14 43 4 – 13 25 16 41 4 – 14 25 14 46 4 – 13 23 15 44 5 – 13 22 15 43 8 – 14 20 17 41 9 – 11 21 17 37 14 – 11 21 Scotland 2005 3 63 – 0 5 29 2006 3 65 – 0 5 27 2007 3 61 – 0 5 31 2008 3 60 – 1 6 30 2009 5 75 – 2 5 14 2010 5 74 – 2 6 14 2011 6 73 – 1 6 14 2012 6 80 – 1 5 7 2013 6 81 – 1 6 5 2014 7 80 – 2 6 5 Northern Ireland 2005 10 – – – – – 2006 7 – – – – – 2007 7 – – – – – 2008 7 – – – – – 2009 6 – – – – – 2010 6 – – – – – 2011 7 – – – – – 2012 8 – – – – – 2013 10 – – – – – Adopted Returned home to live with parents/ relatives/friends or on residence order Special guardianship Former foster parents Independent living Other England 2005 20 47 11 27 2006 14 46 0 – 13 27 2007 13 45 1 – 14 25 2008 13 43 4 – 14 25 2009 13 42 5 – 13 27 2010 13 43 5 – 13 26 2011 11 42 6 – 13 27 2012 13 42 8 – 14 25 2013 14 41 10 – 14 22 2014 17 41 11 – 12 20 Wales* 15 56 – – 11 19 16 56 – – 10 18 16 53 2 – 12 16 14 43 4 – 13 25 16 41 4 – 14 25 14 46 4 – 13 23 15 44 5 – 13 22 15 43 8 – 14 20 17 41 9 – 11 21 17 37 14 – 11 21 Scotland 2005 3 63 – 0 5 29 2006 3 65 – 0 5 27 2007 3 61 – 0 5 31 2008 3 60 – 1 6 30 2009 5 75 – 2 5 14 2010 5 74 – 2 6 14 2011 6 73 – 1 6 14 2012 6 80 – 1 5 7 2013 6 81 – 1 6 5 2014 7 80 – 2 6 5 Northern Ireland 2005 10 – – – – – 2006 7 – – – – – 2007 7 – – – – – 2008 7 – – – – – 2009 6 – – – – – 2010 6 – – – – – 2011 7 – – – – – 2012 8 – – – – – 2013 10 – – – – – * Excludes data categorised as ‘episode ceases and new episode begins on same or next day’, as these children remain looked after. It is possible to consider the impact of different permanency arrangements—through Adoption or Special Guardianship on rates of out-of-home care for England and Wales (see Figure 8). Adding children discharged from care through these arrangements back into figures for looked after children at the census date, whilst a rudimentary calculation, highlights how these differences can make fairly significant increases to rates in both jurisdictions. Figure 8 View largeDownload slide Recalculated rates of looked after children in England and Wales including those adopted and discharged from care under an SGO during the year (2005–14) Figure 8 View largeDownload slide Recalculated rates of looked after children in England and Wales including those adopted and discharged from care under an SGO during the year (2005–14) Discussion Removing children from the care of their parents to alternative living arrangements, whether with kin or non-familial caretakers, is a highly charged public intervention usually undertaken in an environment where a child’s well-being is at stake. Analysis of routine data collected on children in public care offers one comparative measure of the operation of child welfare systems illuminating, as Nelken (2009, p. 291), in another context, suggests, ‘what they (other jurisdictions) are actually trying to do’ in responding to children’s needs. Comparative analysis of such data requires appreciation of the distinct norms and culture within a country’s specific child welfare regime (Thoburn, 2007). This paper suggests that three similar policy drivers—early intervention, adoption/permanency and the position of kinship care—are operating in each particular policy and legal regime in ways that partially shape rates of children in public care across the UK. Scotland, followed by Wales, has the highest rates of children in out-of-home care followed by England and NI with similar lower proportions. Given the strong link between deprivation and higher chances of becoming looked after (Bywaters et al., 2014), we might expect this to have a significant influence on national rates. However, Wales and NI have the highest levels of deprivation but very different looked after rates, whilst the same is true of England and Scotland, which both have lower average levels of deprivation. A study underway to compare equally deprived neighbourhoods across the four countries will provide more useful detail on this broad conclusion. Thus, national variation appears, in the case of the UK countries, less a reflection of differential levels of need for public care and more a reflection of differing legal and operational practice. This is especially true within the Scottish context, where integration of youth justice and child protection within the Children’s Hearings System and the use of Compulsory Supervision Orders clearly contributes to substantially higher rates. Attempting to account for some of these differences by focusing on rates of children ‘accommodated’ by local authorities, the Scottish rate reduces to the equivalent of Wales. However, it is still higher than England and it is not possible to disaggregate how youth justice applications might specifically impact these figures. In relation to England, Wales and NI, a range of factors including differing national practices regarding the use of adoption and other permanence options influences variation in rates. Adoption and kinship care Adoption legislation including non-consensual adoption (the latter permitted across the UK) is contained within separate legislation in each UK jurisdiction. England and Wales have taken the strongest lead in the promotion of adoption as a primary route to permanence for children looked after in out-of-home care, including time targets, concurrent planning and fostering to adopt (DfE, 2012). This is reflected in the higher proportion of children in England and Wales exiting care through adoption. Adoption rates in Scotland have historically been the lowest of all UK nations but have seen a small but significant increase in recent years, no doubt influenced by the implementation of Permanence Orders with authority to adopt and a more robust policy emphasis on early permanence (Scottish Government, 2011). Equally, rates in NI have increased over time, accounting for one in ten discharges from care in 2013. Government guidance in all four jurisdictions prioritises kinship care as the first option where an alternate living arrangement for a child is required. However, the data show very different patterns between nations, with 11–15 per cent of looked after children placed in kinship care in England and Wales in 2013/14 compared with 26 per cent in Scotland and 32 per cent in NI. In England and Wales, this is likely linked to the increasing use of SGOs, primarily involving kinship placements, which operate as an exit and diversion from public care (Wade et al., 2014), removing a substantial number of children from future out-of-home care statistics. Both NI and Scotland have specific assessment processes for kinship carers and, in Scotland, the rate of kinship placements has steadily increased over time, accounting for almost half of the increase in numbers of looked after children in Scotland between 2001 and 2010 (Kidner, 2012). This is perceived to reflect a transfer from informal to formal kinship care (Scottish Government, 2015). Access to financial and support resources for kin carers is most likely to underpin the preferred legal status of formal kinship care arrangements (Wade et al., 2014; Farrugia, 2015) across jurisdictions and, while there are undoubted benefits of providing stable living arrangements for young children, kinship care and adoption may also be relatively financially attractive for cash-strapped local authorities. Reorienting towards younger children? Entries and exits from care provide another comparative lens to examine policy influences, entry data speaking to the influence of current policy direction (Thoburn, 2007). A variable picture is present: over the ten-year period, Wales and NI rates of entry remained relatively stable, increased in England and are recently reducing in Scotland. In Scotland, the preventive contribution of the getting it right for every child (Scottish Government, 2008a) and youth justice (Scottish Government, 2008b) policies alongside a concerted effort through local pre-referral screening systems to reduce overwhelming numbers of referrals to the hearings system are likely contributors to a reduction in these historically high rates of looked after children. In England, a triple whammy of reduced access to primary and secondary preventive resources through local authority funding cuts, the impact of child fatalities on professional and institutional decision making (Hood et al., 2016; Cafcass, 2012) and direct impacts on families of austerity measures (Hastings et al., 2015) arguably have served to increase rates of entry to public care. What is particularly stark is the increase in children aged under five years entering public care systems in Scotland, Wales and NI, to an extent reflecting what has been the case in England during this period. In recent years, close to one-fifth of children entering public care across the UK are less than one year old. Two factors are likely prominent. First, pre-birth child protective processes across the UK have become more common practice in the wake of inquiries into the fatal non-accidental injury of children. England saw a significant increase in care orders following the Baby P inquiry (Macleod et al., 2010) and Broadhurst et al. (2016) have observed over the period 2007–14 an increase in the use of compulsory measures at birth. In Scotland, emergency child protection measures rapidly increased from 2003. In 2013–14, almost half (48 per cent) of child protection orders concerned children aged under one year. Although data are not routinely collected on outcomes, in 2011–12, almost four-fifths (79 per cent) of children subject to child protection orders subsequently were looked after away from home (Henderson and Hanson, 2015). Second, all four jurisdictions have well-developed policy and practice emphases on early and preventive intervention and the provision of early help via multi-agency support to families. This includes policy aimed at reducing the impact of social disadvantage on children, often oriented towards very young children (Flying Start, Welsh Government, 2016, for example). Neuroscientific research on infant brain development has become a potent policy influence (Allen, 2011) despite a misreading of the policy readiness of the research base (Wastell and White, 2012). Early-years intervention sits alongside policy where stage of intervention is relevant (Walker, 2005), namely to prevent significant harm, reduce the disruption of public care and consider diverse ways of securing permanence for children. In England, at least, these policy objectives have been contradicted since 2010 by radical reductions to the funding of early-years services (Action for Children et al., 2016). Rates of children in public care are not detached from earlier upstream child welfare policy and intervention, and all four jurisdictions have seen increasing rates of child protection referral, increasing registration of children aged from birth to four years and an increased orientation towards neglect and emotional abuse as the defining child protection concerns (Bunting et al., a companion article, forthcoming, analysing child protection referrals across the UK). Balancing child protection and family support and the emergence of a more child-focused orientation (Gilbert et al., 2011) are not without consequence. Featherstone et al. (2014) have argued that the ‘marriage’ of the early-intervention agenda and child protection has driven coercive state intervention in the lives of an increasing number of families, emphasising a form of practice that is legally based and privileges adoption. These data raise questions as to the extent to which early intervention for very young children may well have morphed into early removal, particularly in the context of an increased focus on permanence and implementation of processes such as concurrent planning. Equally stark has been the reduction in the proportion of adolescent children entering public care (not including over-sixteens) across all four jurisdictions of the UK. Data are not completely comparable due to differing age categories; however, the overarching trend is clear. Diversion of youth justice cases from child welfare systems may be a factor. Scotland has seen greater diversion of young people who offend from formal systems (Scottish Government, 2008b); in 2014, only 18 per cent of children referred to the hearings system were so on the offence ground SCRA (2015). In England, there has been a significant process of decarceration of children partially attributable to cost-reduction aims following the financial crisis of 2008, illuminating the influence of economic (alongside social and political) conditions on rates of child imprisonment (Goldson and Muncie, 2015). Future developments Despite the availability of a range of data indicators on children looked after by local authorities, especially those in out-of-home care, these data are frequently shorn of contextual and temporal information, especially regarding the social and economic conditions of the children and their families. There is extensive evidence of social and economic deprivation present in the lives of looked after children (Bebbington and Miles, 1989; Pelton, 2015; Bywaters, 2015) and an association between poverty and maltreatment (Thoburn, 2007; Bywaters et al., 2016a) yet this contextual information remains undocumented. Given that political ideologies affect poverty alleviation, housing, general health and child welfare services that indirectly impact on children’s needs, there is a strong argument for including some measures of socio-economic circumstances (e.g. area-level deprivation measures), long routinely collected in health administrative data, to child welfare data collections. Child welfare inequalities require as much attention and analysis as health inequalities (Bywaters, 2015). In addition, more consistent and better-quality data collection on subgroups of children within child welfare systems would enable more effective cross-country comparison permitting, for example, complex analysis of interactions between ethnicity and socio-economic circumstances (Putnam-Hornstein et al., 2013; Bywaters et al., 2016b). This would facilitate a more nuanced understanding of ethnicity and child welfare involvement required for policy and practice development (Barn, 2007; Barn and Kirton, 2012). Whilst recognising routine collection of socio-economic data will not overcome issues of difference versus magnitude or the uncertainty and contingency of individual decisions on entry to care (Alastalo and Pösö, 2014), it will provide a further dimension to policy development in all four jurisdictions of the UK. Conclusion This analysis of administrative data on looked after children gathered in the four jurisdictions of the UK considers the impact of differing legal and child welfare policy contexts on rates and patterns of placement. Despite differing devolution settlements, it is suggested that convergence characterises the broad direction of policy across the UK towards early intervention, extensive use of kinship care and adoption as an exit route from care. The legal and operational context of the implementation of these concurrent policy trends influences categories counted in national administrative data. This can serve to occlude similarities present across the UK, such as the trends towards increased entry of young children to public care. The failure systematically to gather data on the socio-economic conditions of looked after children represents a missed opportunity to examine the influence of social and economic conditions on rates of children in public care. 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Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Social Work Oxford University Press

Looking After Children in the UK—Convergence or Divergence?

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
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0045-3102
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Abstract

Abstract Comparative child welfare administrative data from each of the four jurisdictions of the UK (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland (NI) and Wales) were analysed over a ten-year period to examine rates and patterns of public care. Scotland followed by Wales has the highest rates of children in out-of-home care, followed by England and NI with similar lower proportions. Despite strong links between deprivation and higher chances of becoming looked after, this national variation appears more a reflection of differing legal and operational practice than higher levels of need for public care. Notwithstanding differing devolution settlements, a convergence in the direction of policy across the UK towards early intervention, extensive use of kinship care and adoption as an exit route from public care is apparent. This convergence is most apparent in the increased entry of very young children to public care in Scotland, NI and Wales. The lack of any systematic collection of data by governments on the social and economic conditions of children reflects a missed opportunity to examine separately their influence on rates of children in public care. Looked after children, out-of-home care, child welfare, deprivation, child protection, childcare Introduction Children in public care and the capacity of public institutions to safeguard and promote their security, stability and opportunity remain a central focus for global and regional policy development. Contemporary Western states provide for the separation of children from their family of origin when this is in the child’s interests through both voluntary and compulsory mechanisms. Children in out-of-home care therefore represent a relatively well defined population generally captured effectively within child welfare administrative data. Cross-national comparison employing such data can provide insight into the potential impact of policy on rates, demographic characteristics and outcomes for these children, although caution in interpretation and comparison is a necessity to guard against inapt or mistaken conclusions on policy success (Thoburn, 2007). This paper draws on comparative child welfare administrative data from each of the four jurisdictions of the UK (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland (NI) and Wales) over a ten-year period to inform an interpretive enquiry into patterns of public care involvement. It is a companion piece to a comparable analysis of official child protection data (Bunting et al., under review). Identifying the ‘appropriate’ number of children in public care remains troublesome for policy makers. Examining comparative rates of looked after children illuminates the impact of policy and legal contexts as one element in a complex network of socio-economic, institutional and individual influences. The UK provides an ideal case study to examine the potential impact of diversity in child welfare policy, for three main reasons. First, broadly similar social and economic conditions prevail, setting a relatively uniform context to policy development. Second, differing approaches to welfare policy, already present for thirty years, have increased following devolution, with more universalist approaches, at least in Scotland and Wales, that prioritise social citizenship over consumerism (Keating, 2012). Third, it represents an opportunity to address limited cross-UK policy learning (Keating et al., 2012) and to contribute towards greater understanding of how child welfare systems produce differential rates and responses to children’s need for public care. Trends are examined in relation to the legislative and policy context pertaining to looked after children in each of the four UK jurisdictions. Many Western states provide for degrees of multi-level governance (e.g. federalism in Germany or devolved administrations as in the UK). These locate responsibility for areas of public policy making (Hallett and Hazel, 1998) at different levels and are in themselves influenced by supranational institutional organisations including the United Nations (UN) and the European Union. In the UK, devolution settlements in 1999 created three separate parliaments/assemblies (Scotland, NI and Wales) with differential jurisdictional powers but all capable (from 2006 in Wales) of delivering primary and secondary legislation and deriving independent policy agendas in health, social services and education—key strategic areas for child welfare. In these areas, legislative powers for England reside with the UK parliament and policy development within separate government departments. National legislative and policy context In England, the 1989 Children Act, albeit amended, remains the underpinning legislative foundation of the child welfare system and, in NI, equivalent legislation is found in the Children (NI) Order 1995. In April 2016, the 2014 Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act replaced many of the child welfare provisions previously found in the 1989 Children Act. Within the 1989 Children Act and the Children (NI) Order, the term ‘looked after’ refers to children and young people under the age of eighteen years who live away from their parents or family and are supervised by a local authority social worker. A ‘looked after’ child may either be accommodated by the local authority (at parental request, with parental consent or in the absence of parents) or be subject to an order made by family courts in order to protect the child from significant harm. This definition is retained in the 2014 Welsh Act (section 74). In Scotland, the 1995 Children (Scotland) Act and the 2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act underpin the child welfare system. England, Wales and NI have court-based systems for child welfare and address the needs of children who offend in separate youth justice courts (Bottoms and Dignan, 2004). In Scotland, a unitary jurisdiction integrates child welfare and youth justice decision making within a system of lay tribunals (Children’s Hearings System); children’s underlying needs and circumstances are considered similar regardless of legal classification. Children’s hearings are intended to encourage a non-adversarial approach to facilitate discussion of child welfare issues between parents, children and panel members—the citizen volunteers who are the decision makers (McGhee, 2011). Courts remain the primary decision-making forum when adoption and permanence decisions are required and where there is immediate risk of significant harm albeit these latter cases are promptly transferred to the children’s hearings for ongoing consideration. Children’s hearings decide whether a child is in need of compulsory measures of supervision (CSO)—a legal order that is not available in other UK jurisdictions. The legal basis for a CSO provides for a broader range of concerns than child protection and additionally includes the need for guidance, treatment or control. CSOs may permit a child either to remain at home with his/her family (discouraged in recent policy; Scottish Government, 2015) or it may place the child in out-of-home care (McGhee, 2011). Children in out-of-home care and those who remain at home with their families receiving support by virtue of a compulsory supervision order are defined as ‘looked after’ in Scotland. See Table 1 for a summary of policy and law. Table 1 Policy and law: summary Key legislation Decision-making fora Looked after children—definitions Adoption—interim measures England 1989 Children Act Family and Youth Courts Children in out-of-home care supervised by local authority Placement orders Wales 2014 Social Services and Well-Being Act Family and Youth Courts As above Placement orders Northern Ireland Children (NI) Order 1989 Family and Youth Courts As above Freeing orders Scotland 1995 Children (Scotland) Act/2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act Lay tribunal—children’s hearings Court primarily for permanency measures As above and includes children on Compulsory Supervision Orders living at home Permanence orders with authority to adopt Key legislation Decision-making fora Looked after children—definitions Adoption—interim measures England 1989 Children Act Family and Youth Courts Children in out-of-home care supervised by local authority Placement orders Wales 2014 Social Services and Well-Being Act Family and Youth Courts As above Placement orders Northern Ireland Children (NI) Order 1989 Family and Youth Courts As above Freeing orders Scotland 1995 Children (Scotland) Act/2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act Lay tribunal—children’s hearings Court primarily for permanency measures As above and includes children on Compulsory Supervision Orders living at home Permanence orders with authority to adopt Table 1 Policy and law: summary Key legislation Decision-making fora Looked after children—definitions Adoption—interim measures England 1989 Children Act Family and Youth Courts Children in out-of-home care supervised by local authority Placement orders Wales 2014 Social Services and Well-Being Act Family and Youth Courts As above Placement orders Northern Ireland Children (NI) Order 1989 Family and Youth Courts As above Freeing orders Scotland 1995 Children (Scotland) Act/2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act Lay tribunal—children’s hearings Court primarily for permanency measures As above and includes children on Compulsory Supervision Orders living at home Permanence orders with authority to adopt Key legislation Decision-making fora Looked after children—definitions Adoption—interim measures England 1989 Children Act Family and Youth Courts Children in out-of-home care supervised by local authority Placement orders Wales 2014 Social Services and Well-Being Act Family and Youth Courts As above Placement orders Northern Ireland Children (NI) Order 1989 Family and Youth Courts As above Freeing orders Scotland 1995 Children (Scotland) Act/2011 Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act Lay tribunal—children’s hearings Court primarily for permanency measures As above and includes children on Compulsory Supervision Orders living at home Permanence orders with authority to adopt Permanency and kinship care In all four jurisdictions, there is separate adoption legislation and varied public and private law measures to secure children in long-term alternate care, primarily through adoption, foster or kinship care arrangements. Although Scotland has enshrined the concept of permanency within legislation, it remains a core theme of policy and legislative development across the UK (NIHSCB, 2010; DfE, 2010; Scottish Government, 2011, 2015). In England and Wales, for example, the 2008 Children and Young Persons Act and Care Planning Guidance (DfE, 2010) requires that there should be an agreed permanence plan for all children who are accommodated or in care. Early intervention, another common theme of child welfare policy across the UK (Davidson et al., 2012), is central to policy development for looked after children in all four jurisdictions (Scottish Government, 2015; DHSSPS, 2007; DfE, 2011) albeit in Wales this is couched in a general duty on local authorities to provide or arrange preventive services (Welsh Government, 2015). Kinship care is prioritised as the preferred placement choice in government policy across the UK (Selwyn and Nandy, 2013); however, different terminology and assessment processes are applied in each of the four jurisdictions (Murphy, 2014). In England, the term ‘family and friends care’ is used instead of kinship care and statutory guidance (DfE, 2011) differentiates informal family and friends care, where there is either no involvement from social services or the child is considered a child in need, from more formal arrangements where the child is looked after by the local authority. Although Welsh guidance refers to kinship care, it makes the same informal/formal differentiation and, in both England and Wales, non-relative foster-carers and relative/friend foster-carers are formally assessed against the same standards. NI and Scotland also use the term ‘kinship carers’ but assess and approve this group against specific standards for kinship care (DHSSPS, 2014; The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009, SSI/210). Financial regimes for kinship carers vary depending on whether the child is formally looked after by a local authority and variation in payment of allowances is not uncommon (see e.g. Wade et al., 2014; Kidner, 2012). Adoption, including non-consensual adoption, is available in all four jurisdictions. In England and Wales, this is primarily through placement orders, in NI through freeing orders, with or without parental consent. In NI, the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 still remains the legal basis for adoption processes, although consultation to update this legislation is ongoing. England has witnessed legislative reform to increase the number of children adopted and to speed up the process through the 2014 Children and Families Act. This act amended the 1989 Children Act to give greater priority to ‘fostering for adoption’ placement in cases where adoption is being considered for a child (similar arrangements are in place in Wales under section 81 of the 2014 Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act). This reflects a long-standing priority given to adoption for looked after children in English policy circles (Narey, 2011). Concurrent planning processes (DfE, 2011) increasingly underpin adoption processes. This involves placing children, typically infants and younger children, with carers who are approved as both foster-carers and adopters, whilst at the same time providing the birth family, usually those with the most complex and entrenched needs, with intensive, time-limited, rehabilitative support services. If rehabilitation is unsuccessful, then the foster-carer can go on to adopt the child. In Wales, a National Adoption Services has been launched to reduce delay in adoption processes (http://gov.wales/?view=Search+results&lang=en (accessed 12 September 2017)). Scottish legislation has undergone reform following a lengthy review process that culminated in the 2007 Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act. This act created a new legal order—a Permanence Order (intended to provide security of placement without resort to adoption). Permanence Orders with authority to Adopt (PO(A)) effectively replaced freeing orders; direct adoption petition remains. Both orders are permitted with and without parental consent. Variation also exists between UK jurisdictions regarding the use of special guardianship orders (SGOs) introduced through the 2002 Adoption and Children Act. This order provides a legal status for non-parents who wish to care for a child in a long-term secure placement and was implemented as an intermediate legal status offering greater security than long-term fostering without the absolute legal severance from the birth family associated with adoption. Although it was anticipated that SGOs would be primarily used where a child had developed a strong relationship with a foster-carer, since implementation, the majority of applicants have been family carers (Wade et al., 2014). Available only in England and Wales, once a SGO has been granted, the child is no longer defined as looked after in these countries. The Scottish Permanence Order differs from SGOs in that it allows not only the restriction of parental responsibility, but its removal where there is a grant of the authority to adopt and, unlike SGOs, a child subject to a Permanence Order remains looked after unless they are adopted or the order revoked. Residential settings In England, Wales and NI, child offenders in secure residential settings are considered and counted in official statistics as looked after by the relevant local authority; in Scotland, young people aged sixteen to seventeen years who receive offence-related custodial sentences are not counted in looked after children statistics unless they remain on compulsory measures of supervision; children aged eight to fifteen years referred to a children’s hearing on the offence ground and subsequently placed on supervision are counted as looked after children. In Scotland and Wales, diversion of young people who offend from formal systems is a key strategy (Scottish Government, 2008b; Jones, 2016). Pitts (2015) argues that, in England, a ‘pragmatic rediscovery of “diversion”’ (p. 37) through revision of a key performance indicator has seen a significant reduction in young people entering the youth justice system. All jurisdictions have developed policy to support care leavers in the transition from care to adulthood, including provision to remain in the same (or similar) care placements for longer periods (see e.g. Scottish Government, 2013; DfE, 2015). Method The data presented in this paper are derived from published administrative data. Where available, trend data for the years 2009/10–2014 are taken from the most recent publications (2013/14) while earlier data for the years 2005–08/09 are taken from 2008/09 publications. Where trend data are not available, statistics are sourced from individual annual publications and in one case direct aggregate data from a statistics authority. Likewise, where available, rates per 10,000 children published in official reports are used. Where these were not available, they are calculated using the 2005–14 mid-year population estimates for each of the nations (ONS, 2014). Findings are structured to examine rates of children in out-of-home care, the balance between voluntary and compulsory placements, entries and exit destinations. Previous work examining the comparability of official child welfare statistics (Munro et al., 2011) has shown that, despite the breadth and detail of statistical data collections in each jurisdiction, there are some limits on comparability. There is close alignment between data collections in England and Wales and greater divergence in data items and classifications used in Scotland and, to a lesser degree, NI. Building on the work of Munro et al. (2011) and further detailed review of each jurisdiction’s data collection documentation, the data presented are either identical or broadly comparable across the four parts of the UK. Any differing legal, statistical or data categorisations that might impact on comparability are highlighted and considered throughout the paper. Findings Comparing rates of looked after children All UK nations collect data on the number of children looked after (LAC) at the census date. In Scotland, the annual census date coincides with the school year (31 July) whilst, for the rest of the UK, it is 31 March. Over the past decade, Scotland has maintained a substantially and consistently higher rate of looked after children than all other UK nations (see Figure 1). As in Wales, the Scottish rates of looked after children have been steadily increasing over time, although this began to drop off from 2012. Rates in England and NI also show a slight upward trend over time. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Rates of looked after children at census date (2005–14) Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Rates of looked after children at census date (2005–14) The difference in looked after rates between Scotland and other UK nations can be partially explained by the operation of the Children’s Hearings System, which is unique to Scotland and which classifies children living with parents on a compulsory supervision order as looked after. This grouping represents a significant proportion of looked after children—just over a quarter (27 per cent) in 2014 (Scottish Government, 2014). In order to make LAC rates more comparable, statistical publications commonly calculate the rate of children looked after in out-of-home care through exclusion of Scottish data relating to children looked after at home. Using this method, although LAC rates for Scotland reduce significantly, they remain substantially higher than other UK nations (Figure 1—the dotted line represents Scottish rates of children looked after in out-of-home care). However, additional variation in available legal orders and use of different placement options may also contribute to differential rates between nations, as explored below. Placement type at the census date All nations collect data on the placement type of looked after children at the census date (see Table 2). While there are considerable variations in the degree of detail provided, six comparable groupings are available: Table 2. Placement type at census date (2005–14) (percentages) Foster placement/kinship care Adoption Placed with parents Residential care (regulated children’s homes) Other placement* Total Non-relative foster-care Relative/ friend foster-care England 2005 68 66 12 6 9 9 8 2006 69 57 12 5 9 9 8 2007 70 58 12 5 9 9 8 2008 71 60 11 5 8 9 8 2009 72 61 11 4 7 9 8 2010 73 62 11 4 7 8 9 2011 74 63 11 4 6 8 7 2012 75 64 11 4 5 8 7 2013 74 63 11 5 5 8 8 2014 75 64 11 5 5 8 7 Wales 2005 72 58 14 0 14 5 3 2006 74 60 14 0 12 5 4 2007 75 61 14 5 11 5 4 2008 75 61 14 5 12 5 4 2009 77 63 14 4 11 4 4 2010 78 62 16 4 9 4 4 2011 79 63 16 3 9 4 4 2012 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2013 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2014 77 62 15 5 9 4 5 Scotland 2005 42 28 14 1 43 6 7 2006 42 29 13 1 42 6 8 2007 44 29 15 2 43 6 6 2008 45 29 16 2 43 5 6 2009 49 29 20 2 39 5 6 2010 49 20 20 2 39 5 6 2011 50 30 20 2 39 4 5 2012 55 31 24 2 34 4 5 2013 58 33 25 2 32 4 5 2014 59 33 26 2 30 4 5 Northern Ireland 2005 2006 62 – – – 20 13 4 2007 59 – – – 24 12 5 2008 57 – – – 26 13 5 2009 65 – – – 19 13 3 2010 65 – – – 19 11 6 2011 74 46 29 1 10 10 6 2012 74 44 30 1 11 9 7 2013 75 44 31 1 12 8 5 2014 75 44 32 1 12 7 5 Foster placement/kinship care Adoption Placed with parents Residential care (regulated children’s homes) Other placement* Total Non-relative foster-care Relative/ friend foster-care England 2005 68 66 12 6 9 9 8 2006 69 57 12 5 9 9 8 2007 70 58 12 5 9 9 8 2008 71 60 11 5 8 9 8 2009 72 61 11 4 7 9 8 2010 73 62 11 4 7 8 9 2011 74 63 11 4 6 8 7 2012 75 64 11 4 5 8 7 2013 74 63 11 5 5 8 8 2014 75 64 11 5 5 8 7 Wales 2005 72 58 14 0 14 5 3 2006 74 60 14 0 12 5 4 2007 75 61 14 5 11 5 4 2008 75 61 14 5 12 5 4 2009 77 63 14 4 11 4 4 2010 78 62 16 4 9 4 4 2011 79 63 16 3 9 4 4 2012 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2013 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2014 77 62 15 5 9 4 5 Scotland 2005 42 28 14 1 43 6 7 2006 42 29 13 1 42 6 8 2007 44 29 15 2 43 6 6 2008 45 29 16 2 43 5 6 2009 49 29 20 2 39 5 6 2010 49 20 20 2 39 5 6 2011 50 30 20 2 39 4 5 2012 55 31 24 2 34 4 5 2013 58 33 25 2 32 4 5 2014 59 33 26 2 30 4 5 Northern Ireland 2005 2006 62 – – – 20 13 4 2007 59 – – – 24 12 5 2008 57 – – – 26 13 5 2009 65 – – – 19 13 3 2010 65 – – – 19 11 6 2011 74 46 29 1 10 10 6 2012 74 44 30 1 11 9 7 2013 75 44 31 1 12 8 5 2014 75 44 32 1 12 7 5 * Other placement includes other residential settings, secure units, hostels, community placements, residential schools, non-regulated homes/hostels, etc. Table 2. Placement type at census date (2005–14) (percentages) Foster placement/kinship care Adoption Placed with parents Residential care (regulated children’s homes) Other placement* Total Non-relative foster-care Relative/ friend foster-care England 2005 68 66 12 6 9 9 8 2006 69 57 12 5 9 9 8 2007 70 58 12 5 9 9 8 2008 71 60 11 5 8 9 8 2009 72 61 11 4 7 9 8 2010 73 62 11 4 7 8 9 2011 74 63 11 4 6 8 7 2012 75 64 11 4 5 8 7 2013 74 63 11 5 5 8 8 2014 75 64 11 5 5 8 7 Wales 2005 72 58 14 0 14 5 3 2006 74 60 14 0 12 5 4 2007 75 61 14 5 11 5 4 2008 75 61 14 5 12 5 4 2009 77 63 14 4 11 4 4 2010 78 62 16 4 9 4 4 2011 79 63 16 3 9 4 4 2012 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2013 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2014 77 62 15 5 9 4 5 Scotland 2005 42 28 14 1 43 6 7 2006 42 29 13 1 42 6 8 2007 44 29 15 2 43 6 6 2008 45 29 16 2 43 5 6 2009 49 29 20 2 39 5 6 2010 49 20 20 2 39 5 6 2011 50 30 20 2 39 4 5 2012 55 31 24 2 34 4 5 2013 58 33 25 2 32 4 5 2014 59 33 26 2 30 4 5 Northern Ireland 2005 2006 62 – – – 20 13 4 2007 59 – – – 24 12 5 2008 57 – – – 26 13 5 2009 65 – – – 19 13 3 2010 65 – – – 19 11 6 2011 74 46 29 1 10 10 6 2012 74 44 30 1 11 9 7 2013 75 44 31 1 12 8 5 2014 75 44 32 1 12 7 5 Foster placement/kinship care Adoption Placed with parents Residential care (regulated children’s homes) Other placement* Total Non-relative foster-care Relative/ friend foster-care England 2005 68 66 12 6 9 9 8 2006 69 57 12 5 9 9 8 2007 70 58 12 5 9 9 8 2008 71 60 11 5 8 9 8 2009 72 61 11 4 7 9 8 2010 73 62 11 4 7 8 9 2011 74 63 11 4 6 8 7 2012 75 64 11 4 5 8 7 2013 74 63 11 5 5 8 8 2014 75 64 11 5 5 8 7 Wales 2005 72 58 14 0 14 5 3 2006 74 60 14 0 12 5 4 2007 75 61 14 5 11 5 4 2008 75 61 14 5 12 5 4 2009 77 63 14 4 11 4 4 2010 78 62 16 4 9 4 4 2011 79 63 16 3 9 4 4 2012 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2013 77 62 15 5 10 4 5 2014 77 62 15 5 9 4 5 Scotland 2005 42 28 14 1 43 6 7 2006 42 29 13 1 42 6 8 2007 44 29 15 2 43 6 6 2008 45 29 16 2 43 5 6 2009 49 29 20 2 39 5 6 2010 49 20 20 2 39 5 6 2011 50 30 20 2 39 4 5 2012 55 31 24 2 34 4 5 2013 58 33 25 2 32 4 5 2014 59 33 26 2 30 4 5 Northern Ireland 2005 2006 62 – – – 20 13 4 2007 59 – – – 24 12 5 2008 57 – – – 26 13 5 2009 65 – – – 19 13 3 2010 65 – – – 19 11 6 2011 74 46 29 1 10 10 6 2012 74 44 30 1 11 9 7 2013 75 44 31 1 12 8 5 2014 75 44 32 1 12 7 5 * Other placement includes other residential settings, secure units, hostels, community placements, residential schools, non-regulated homes/hostels, etc. non-relative foster placement; relative/friend foster-care/kinship care placement; adoption; placement with parents; residential care (regulated children’s homes); other placement type—includes other residential settings, secure units, hostels, community placements, residential schools, non-regulated homes/hostels, etc. Adoption is used in only a small minority of cases across the UK but there are national differences. This placement option accounts for 0–1 per cent of placements at the census date in Scotland and NI, compared to 5–6 per cent in England and Wales. The majority of placements in England and Wales and NI are in foster-care, although three in ten of these involve kinship placements in NI compared to 11–15 per cent in England and Wales. Given the different thresholds and mechanisms for assessing and approving non-relative foster-care/kinship care across nations, arguably this is not a comparison of like with like. One way to take account of varying operational practice on overall looked after rates is to exclude both those placed in kinship/relative foster-care and those looked after at home, focusing instead on children for whom the local authority provide accommodation. As Figure 2 demonstrates, this reduces the rate of LAC at the census date across all countries; it has a much more substantial impact on Scottish statistics, giving an ‘accommodated’ rate which is similar to that of Wales (Figure 2). It also shows that NI has a much lower ‘accommodated’ rate—almost half that of either Wales or Scotland. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Rates of looked after children per 10,000 accommodated by local authorities (2005–14) Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Rates of looked after children per 10,000 accommodated by local authorities (2005–14) Voluntary and compulsory measures Each UK jurisdiction collects data on the legal status of looked after children at the census date, although the range and level of detail provided vary considerably and several orders are specific to certain jurisdictions, such as CSOs in Scotland. However, the legislation in each nation provides for children to become accommodated by local authorities on a ‘voluntary basis’ as a form of family support, allowing comparison of the use of voluntary measures versus compulsory measures across the UK. The data show that both England and NI have the same relatively high proportions—approximately three in ten looked after children in ‘voluntary’ placements, although this has decreased in recent years. Whilst Welsh figures for 2005 were higher than any other nation during the ten-year time period, these have decreased ever since and now account for one in five of placements. Scottish figures have been consistently lower, at roughly one in ten, although changes in data collection practices mean than reliable data are not available for 2009–12 (see Figure 3). Lower Scottish rates, highlighted above, will also be affected by the wider use of placements with parents and kinship care in this jurisdiction. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Proportion of looked after children ‘voluntarily’ accommodated across the UK (2005–14) Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Proportion of looked after children ‘voluntarily’ accommodated across the UK (2005–14) Admissions to care during the year All UK nations collect data on the number of admissions to care during the year, which can provide a more current overview of practice. As Figure 4 shows, admissions to public care have remained fairly stable in Wales and NI but have been steadily increasing in England, particularly since 2008, while Scotland has seen a slight reduction since 2010. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Admissions to care during the year (2005–14) Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Admissions to care during the year (2005–14) All nations disaggregate admission to care data by age and, despite variation in the age grouping used, two trends are apparent. First, in Scotland, Wales and NI, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of young children under five years old entering public care (see Figure 5; primarily driven at least in Scotland and Wales by a proportionate increase in children aged less than one year). NI has seen a proportionate increase in both age groups. Scottish data will include children looked after at home, reflecting the use of compulsory supervision as an alternate to registration as a child protection measure. England, in contrast, has a relatively stable proportion of new entrants under five years old and an increase in young people aged sixteen years or older: from 7 per cent in 2005 to 16 per cent in 2015. Figure 5 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged from birth to four years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) Figure 5 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged from birth to four years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) The proportion of primary-aged children has remained relatively stable in all four jurisdictions (see Figure 6). Figure 6 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged five to nine/five to eleven years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) Figure 6 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged five to nine/five to eleven years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) The second similar trend in all four jurisdictions has been the substantial reduction in the proportion of early adolescent children. Notwithstanding data are not gathered for the exactly similar age ranges across the UK, this broad pattern is evident. In Scotland and NI, the proportion of twelve-to-fifteen-year-olds reduced from 38 per cent to 29 per cent and 36 per cent to 22 per cent, respectively. In England and Wales, similar reductions can be seen for the ten-to-fifteen-year-old age group (see Figure 7). Figure 7 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged ten to fifteen/twelve to fifteen years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) Figure 7 View largeDownload slide Percentage of children aged ten to fifteen/twelve to fifteen years on entry to care across the UK (2005–14) Discharges from care during the year Data on destinations following discharges from care during the year are collected across all four UK jurisdictions. While there are variations in the categorisations used, five comparable groupings are available: adoption; returned home to live with parents, relatives or friends or someone with parental responsibility (including residence orders); special guardianship order; independent living, including both supported and unsupported; other—including those who died, were sentenced to custody, were transferred to adult social care, taken into care by another LA or whose destination was unknown. All nations publish data on the number of children adopted. As Table 3 highlights, Scotland has a consistently lowest proportion of children adopted from care, followed by NI, while England and Wales have higher proportions (11–17 per cent). Numbers of children returned to the care of parents/friends or relatives account for the largest proportion of discharges across all nations, although these have been decreasing over time in England and Wales whilst, in Scotland, they have been increasing. The data also show that SGOs, available only in England and Wales, increasingly account for a significant minority of discharges from care: 11 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively, in 2014. Table 3 Discharges from care during the year by destination (percentages) (2005–14) Adopted Returned home to live with parents/ relatives/friends or on residence order Special guardianship Former foster parents Independent living Other England 2005 20 47 11 27 2006 14 46 0 – 13 27 2007 13 45 1 – 14 25 2008 13 43 4 – 14 25 2009 13 42 5 – 13 27 2010 13 43 5 – 13 26 2011 11 42 6 – 13 27 2012 13 42 8 – 14 25 2013 14 41 10 – 14 22 2014 17 41 11 – 12 20 Wales* 15 56 – – 11 19 16 56 – – 10 18 16 53 2 – 12 16 14 43 4 – 13 25 16 41 4 – 14 25 14 46 4 – 13 23 15 44 5 – 13 22 15 43 8 – 14 20 17 41 9 – 11 21 17 37 14 – 11 21 Scotland 2005 3 63 – 0 5 29 2006 3 65 – 0 5 27 2007 3 61 – 0 5 31 2008 3 60 – 1 6 30 2009 5 75 – 2 5 14 2010 5 74 – 2 6 14 2011 6 73 – 1 6 14 2012 6 80 – 1 5 7 2013 6 81 – 1 6 5 2014 7 80 – 2 6 5 Northern Ireland 2005 10 – – – – – 2006 7 – – – – – 2007 7 – – – – – 2008 7 – – – – – 2009 6 – – – – – 2010 6 – – – – – 2011 7 – – – – – 2012 8 – – – – – 2013 10 – – – – – Adopted Returned home to live with parents/ relatives/friends or on residence order Special guardianship Former foster parents Independent living Other England 2005 20 47 11 27 2006 14 46 0 – 13 27 2007 13 45 1 – 14 25 2008 13 43 4 – 14 25 2009 13 42 5 – 13 27 2010 13 43 5 – 13 26 2011 11 42 6 – 13 27 2012 13 42 8 – 14 25 2013 14 41 10 – 14 22 2014 17 41 11 – 12 20 Wales* 15 56 – – 11 19 16 56 – – 10 18 16 53 2 – 12 16 14 43 4 – 13 25 16 41 4 – 14 25 14 46 4 – 13 23 15 44 5 – 13 22 15 43 8 – 14 20 17 41 9 – 11 21 17 37 14 – 11 21 Scotland 2005 3 63 – 0 5 29 2006 3 65 – 0 5 27 2007 3 61 – 0 5 31 2008 3 60 – 1 6 30 2009 5 75 – 2 5 14 2010 5 74 – 2 6 14 2011 6 73 – 1 6 14 2012 6 80 – 1 5 7 2013 6 81 – 1 6 5 2014 7 80 – 2 6 5 Northern Ireland 2005 10 – – – – – 2006 7 – – – – – 2007 7 – – – – – 2008 7 – – – – – 2009 6 – – – – – 2010 6 – – – – – 2011 7 – – – – – 2012 8 – – – – – 2013 10 – – – – – * Excludes data categorised as ‘episode ceases and new episode begins on same or next day’, as these children remain looked after. Table 3 Discharges from care during the year by destination (percentages) (2005–14) Adopted Returned home to live with parents/ relatives/friends or on residence order Special guardianship Former foster parents Independent living Other England 2005 20 47 11 27 2006 14 46 0 – 13 27 2007 13 45 1 – 14 25 2008 13 43 4 – 14 25 2009 13 42 5 – 13 27 2010 13 43 5 – 13 26 2011 11 42 6 – 13 27 2012 13 42 8 – 14 25 2013 14 41 10 – 14 22 2014 17 41 11 – 12 20 Wales* 15 56 – – 11 19 16 56 – – 10 18 16 53 2 – 12 16 14 43 4 – 13 25 16 41 4 – 14 25 14 46 4 – 13 23 15 44 5 – 13 22 15 43 8 – 14 20 17 41 9 – 11 21 17 37 14 – 11 21 Scotland 2005 3 63 – 0 5 29 2006 3 65 – 0 5 27 2007 3 61 – 0 5 31 2008 3 60 – 1 6 30 2009 5 75 – 2 5 14 2010 5 74 – 2 6 14 2011 6 73 – 1 6 14 2012 6 80 – 1 5 7 2013 6 81 – 1 6 5 2014 7 80 – 2 6 5 Northern Ireland 2005 10 – – – – – 2006 7 – – – – – 2007 7 – – – – – 2008 7 – – – – – 2009 6 – – – – – 2010 6 – – – – – 2011 7 – – – – – 2012 8 – – – – – 2013 10 – – – – – Adopted Returned home to live with parents/ relatives/friends or on residence order Special guardianship Former foster parents Independent living Other England 2005 20 47 11 27 2006 14 46 0 – 13 27 2007 13 45 1 – 14 25 2008 13 43 4 – 14 25 2009 13 42 5 – 13 27 2010 13 43 5 – 13 26 2011 11 42 6 – 13 27 2012 13 42 8 – 14 25 2013 14 41 10 – 14 22 2014 17 41 11 – 12 20 Wales* 15 56 – – 11 19 16 56 – – 10 18 16 53 2 – 12 16 14 43 4 – 13 25 16 41 4 – 14 25 14 46 4 – 13 23 15 44 5 – 13 22 15 43 8 – 14 20 17 41 9 – 11 21 17 37 14 – 11 21 Scotland 2005 3 63 – 0 5 29 2006 3 65 – 0 5 27 2007 3 61 – 0 5 31 2008 3 60 – 1 6 30 2009 5 75 – 2 5 14 2010 5 74 – 2 6 14 2011 6 73 – 1 6 14 2012 6 80 – 1 5 7 2013 6 81 – 1 6 5 2014 7 80 – 2 6 5 Northern Ireland 2005 10 – – – – – 2006 7 – – – – – 2007 7 – – – – – 2008 7 – – – – – 2009 6 – – – – – 2010 6 – – – – – 2011 7 – – – – – 2012 8 – – – – – 2013 10 – – – – – * Excludes data categorised as ‘episode ceases and new episode begins on same or next day’, as these children remain looked after. It is possible to consider the impact of different permanency arrangements—through Adoption or Special Guardianship on rates of out-of-home care for England and Wales (see Figure 8). Adding children discharged from care through these arrangements back into figures for looked after children at the census date, whilst a rudimentary calculation, highlights how these differences can make fairly significant increases to rates in both jurisdictions. Figure 8 View largeDownload slide Recalculated rates of looked after children in England and Wales including those adopted and discharged from care under an SGO during the year (2005–14) Figure 8 View largeDownload slide Recalculated rates of looked after children in England and Wales including those adopted and discharged from care under an SGO during the year (2005–14) Discussion Removing children from the care of their parents to alternative living arrangements, whether with kin or non-familial caretakers, is a highly charged public intervention usually undertaken in an environment where a child’s well-being is at stake. Analysis of routine data collected on children in public care offers one comparative measure of the operation of child welfare systems illuminating, as Nelken (2009, p. 291), in another context, suggests, ‘what they (other jurisdictions) are actually trying to do’ in responding to children’s needs. Comparative analysis of such data requires appreciation of the distinct norms and culture within a country’s specific child welfare regime (Thoburn, 2007). This paper suggests that three similar policy drivers—early intervention, adoption/permanency and the position of kinship care—are operating in each particular policy and legal regime in ways that partially shape rates of children in public care across the UK. Scotland, followed by Wales, has the highest rates of children in out-of-home care followed by England and NI with similar lower proportions. Given the strong link between deprivation and higher chances of becoming looked after (Bywaters et al., 2014), we might expect this to have a significant influence on national rates. However, Wales and NI have the highest levels of deprivation but very different looked after rates, whilst the same is true of England and Scotland, which both have lower average levels of deprivation. A study underway to compare equally deprived neighbourhoods across the four countries will provide more useful detail on this broad conclusion. Thus, national variation appears, in the case of the UK countries, less a reflection of differential levels of need for public care and more a reflection of differing legal and operational practice. This is especially true within the Scottish context, where integration of youth justice and child protection within the Children’s Hearings System and the use of Compulsory Supervision Orders clearly contributes to substantially higher rates. Attempting to account for some of these differences by focusing on rates of children ‘accommodated’ by local authorities, the Scottish rate reduces to the equivalent of Wales. However, it is still higher than England and it is not possible to disaggregate how youth justice applications might specifically impact these figures. In relation to England, Wales and NI, a range of factors including differing national practices regarding the use of adoption and other permanence options influences variation in rates. Adoption and kinship care Adoption legislation including non-consensual adoption (the latter permitted across the UK) is contained within separate legislation in each UK jurisdiction. England and Wales have taken the strongest lead in the promotion of adoption as a primary route to permanence for children looked after in out-of-home care, including time targets, concurrent planning and fostering to adopt (DfE, 2012). This is reflected in the higher proportion of children in England and Wales exiting care through adoption. Adoption rates in Scotland have historically been the lowest of all UK nations but have seen a small but significant increase in recent years, no doubt influenced by the implementation of Permanence Orders with authority to adopt and a more robust policy emphasis on early permanence (Scottish Government, 2011). Equally, rates in NI have increased over time, accounting for one in ten discharges from care in 2013. Government guidance in all four jurisdictions prioritises kinship care as the first option where an alternate living arrangement for a child is required. However, the data show very different patterns between nations, with 11–15 per cent of looked after children placed in kinship care in England and Wales in 2013/14 compared with 26 per cent in Scotland and 32 per cent in NI. In England and Wales, this is likely linked to the increasing use of SGOs, primarily involving kinship placements, which operate as an exit and diversion from public care (Wade et al., 2014), removing a substantial number of children from future out-of-home care statistics. Both NI and Scotland have specific assessment processes for kinship carers and, in Scotland, the rate of kinship placements has steadily increased over time, accounting for almost half of the increase in numbers of looked after children in Scotland between 2001 and 2010 (Kidner, 2012). This is perceived to reflect a transfer from informal to formal kinship care (Scottish Government, 2015). Access to financial and support resources for kin carers is most likely to underpin the preferred legal status of formal kinship care arrangements (Wade et al., 2014; Farrugia, 2015) across jurisdictions and, while there are undoubted benefits of providing stable living arrangements for young children, kinship care and adoption may also be relatively financially attractive for cash-strapped local authorities. Reorienting towards younger children? Entries and exits from care provide another comparative lens to examine policy influences, entry data speaking to the influence of current policy direction (Thoburn, 2007). A variable picture is present: over the ten-year period, Wales and NI rates of entry remained relatively stable, increased in England and are recently reducing in Scotland. In Scotland, the preventive contribution of the getting it right for every child (Scottish Government, 2008a) and youth justice (Scottish Government, 2008b) policies alongside a concerted effort through local pre-referral screening systems to reduce overwhelming numbers of referrals to the hearings system are likely contributors to a reduction in these historically high rates of looked after children. In England, a triple whammy of reduced access to primary and secondary preventive resources through local authority funding cuts, the impact of child fatalities on professional and institutional decision making (Hood et al., 2016; Cafcass, 2012) and direct impacts on families of austerity measures (Hastings et al., 2015) arguably have served to increase rates of entry to public care. What is particularly stark is the increase in children aged under five years entering public care systems in Scotland, Wales and NI, to an extent reflecting what has been the case in England during this period. In recent years, close to one-fifth of children entering public care across the UK are less than one year old. Two factors are likely prominent. First, pre-birth child protective processes across the UK have become more common practice in the wake of inquiries into the fatal non-accidental injury of children. England saw a significant increase in care orders following the Baby P inquiry (Macleod et al., 2010) and Broadhurst et al. (2016) have observed over the period 2007–14 an increase in the use of compulsory measures at birth. In Scotland, emergency child protection measures rapidly increased from 2003. In 2013–14, almost half (48 per cent) of child protection orders concerned children aged under one year. Although data are not routinely collected on outcomes, in 2011–12, almost four-fifths (79 per cent) of children subject to child protection orders subsequently were looked after away from home (Henderson and Hanson, 2015). Second, all four jurisdictions have well-developed policy and practice emphases on early and preventive intervention and the provision of early help via multi-agency support to families. This includes policy aimed at reducing the impact of social disadvantage on children, often oriented towards very young children (Flying Start, Welsh Government, 2016, for example). Neuroscientific research on infant brain development has become a potent policy influence (Allen, 2011) despite a misreading of the policy readiness of the research base (Wastell and White, 2012). Early-years intervention sits alongside policy where stage of intervention is relevant (Walker, 2005), namely to prevent significant harm, reduce the disruption of public care and consider diverse ways of securing permanence for children. In England, at least, these policy objectives have been contradicted since 2010 by radical reductions to the funding of early-years services (Action for Children et al., 2016). Rates of children in public care are not detached from earlier upstream child welfare policy and intervention, and all four jurisdictions have seen increasing rates of child protection referral, increasing registration of children aged from birth to four years and an increased orientation towards neglect and emotional abuse as the defining child protection concerns (Bunting et al., a companion article, forthcoming, analysing child protection referrals across the UK). Balancing child protection and family support and the emergence of a more child-focused orientation (Gilbert et al., 2011) are not without consequence. Featherstone et al. (2014) have argued that the ‘marriage’ of the early-intervention agenda and child protection has driven coercive state intervention in the lives of an increasing number of families, emphasising a form of practice that is legally based and privileges adoption. These data raise questions as to the extent to which early intervention for very young children may well have morphed into early removal, particularly in the context of an increased focus on permanence and implementation of processes such as concurrent planning. Equally stark has been the reduction in the proportion of adolescent children entering public care (not including over-sixteens) across all four jurisdictions of the UK. Data are not completely comparable due to differing age categories; however, the overarching trend is clear. Diversion of youth justice cases from child welfare systems may be a factor. Scotland has seen greater diversion of young people who offend from formal systems (Scottish Government, 2008b); in 2014, only 18 per cent of children referred to the hearings system were so on the offence ground SCRA (2015). In England, there has been a significant process of decarceration of children partially attributable to cost-reduction aims following the financial crisis of 2008, illuminating the influence of economic (alongside social and political) conditions on rates of child imprisonment (Goldson and Muncie, 2015). Future developments Despite the availability of a range of data indicators on children looked after by local authorities, especially those in out-of-home care, these data are frequently shorn of contextual and temporal information, especially regarding the social and economic conditions of the children and their families. There is extensive evidence of social and economic deprivation present in the lives of looked after children (Bebbington and Miles, 1989; Pelton, 2015; Bywaters, 2015) and an association between poverty and maltreatment (Thoburn, 2007; Bywaters et al., 2016a) yet this contextual information remains undocumented. Given that political ideologies affect poverty alleviation, housing, general health and child welfare services that indirectly impact on children’s needs, there is a strong argument for including some measures of socio-economic circumstances (e.g. area-level deprivation measures), long routinely collected in health administrative data, to child welfare data collections. Child welfare inequalities require as much attention and analysis as health inequalities (Bywaters, 2015). In addition, more consistent and better-quality data collection on subgroups of children within child welfare systems would enable more effective cross-country comparison permitting, for example, complex analysis of interactions between ethnicity and socio-economic circumstances (Putnam-Hornstein et al., 2013; Bywaters et al., 2016b). This would facilitate a more nuanced understanding of ethnicity and child welfare involvement required for policy and practice development (Barn, 2007; Barn and Kirton, 2012). Whilst recognising routine collection of socio-economic data will not overcome issues of difference versus magnitude or the uncertainty and contingency of individual decisions on entry to care (Alastalo and Pösö, 2014), it will provide a further dimension to policy development in all four jurisdictions of the UK. Conclusion This analysis of administrative data on looked after children gathered in the four jurisdictions of the UK considers the impact of differing legal and child welfare policy contexts on rates and patterns of placement. Despite differing devolution settlements, it is suggested that convergence characterises the broad direction of policy across the UK towards early intervention, extensive use of kinship care and adoption as an exit route from care. The legal and operational context of the implementation of these concurrent policy trends influences categories counted in national administrative data. This can serve to occlude similarities present across the UK, such as the trends towards increased entry of young children to public care. The failure systematically to gather data on the socio-economic conditions of looked after children represents a missed opportunity to examine the influence of social and economic conditions on rates of children in public care. 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Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Published: Jul 1, 2018

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