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Eight-year-olds identified in infancy as at risk of harm: report of a prospective longitudinal study

Research report

Over the last ten years the Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) at Loughborough University has been following the professional decision-making processes that have affected the life pathways of a sample of very young children who were assessed as suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm before they reached their first birthdays. The overall aim of the study is to inform future professional decision-making about whether abused and neglected children can safely remain living with their birth parent(s) or need permanent out-of-home placements, such as long-term foster care, adoption or special guardianship.

The study began by recruiting from ten local authorities a sample of babies who had been the subjects of a core assessment or a Section 47 enquiry triggered by concerns about abuse or neglect before their first birthdays. Difficulties in gaining access and obtaining parents’ informed consent to participate significantly restricted recruitment. However 57 infants were recruited before they were one and 43 of them were traced until they were three years old.1 Thirty-seven of the original 57 children were then traced up to their fifth birthdays. This second stage of the study focused on the children’s experiences of starting school.

Further funding was then made available to follow up the sample when the majority of the children were aged seven and eight. This third stage of the study is the focus of this report and explores the experiences and progress of 36 of the original 57 children. It includes the children’s own perspective for the first time. Its objectives were to:

  • understand how decisions made in the early years (0-5) continue to affect the lives of abused and neglected children;
  • identify the competing considerations of the professionals originally involved with the children when making decisions about assessments and interventions, and explore those which had long-term influence;
  • identify the role of primary school teachers and SENCOs in recognising and responding to abuse and neglect; and,
  • explore the children’s experiences and perceptions of the ways in which they are supported at home and at school.