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Stability Index 2018: Technical Report

Instability in care has repeatedly been shown to be detrimental to outcomes for looked after children (see Munro 2006, Rubin et al 2007, Schofield and Beek 2005). The Children’s Commissioner for England launched the Stability Index in 2017 in order to shed more light on the issue, measure at the local and national level the instability that children in care experience, and drive improvements to stability. Last year’s Stability Index report highlighted that this instability was a repeated issue of concern for children in care in England and demonstrated for the 2015/16 cohort of looked after children:

  • Around 1 in 10 children in care experienced multiple placement moves during the year. A similar proportion experienced a mid-year school move.
  • Around 1 in 4 experienced multiple social worker changes during the year
  • Around 1 in 20 experienced any form of multiple instability during the year: any combination of multiple placement moves, a mid-year school move or multiple social worker moves.

That report provided initial and preliminary findings based on a first look at the data on the transitions experienced by children in care. However the Stability Index is a long-term project, and this report provides an annual update of our analysis in order to continue to shine a light on the important issues of placement, school and social worker instability for looked after children.

Aims of this update

As well as updating our analysis, this year we have also developed our analysis in three key ways. Firstly, in response to feedback from looked after children and young people, we have expanded our analysis to examine children’s instability over 2 years as well as a single year. This allows us to identify children experiencing repeated instability over a longer period of time. Secondly, we are also able to compare our single-year figures to last year’s results to examine how instability has changed in the past 12 months. Thirdly, we have expanded our data collection from local authorities on social worker changes to include much richer data from significantly more local authorities.

This analysis also aims to investigate how these national pictures of instability (both single year and over two years) vary by local authority (LA) and what factors might explain this variation. Specifically it asks:

  • Are there particular groups of children at greater risk of experiencing instability?
  • Are there placement/school characteristics that make a child more likely to experience instability?
  • Are there local authority characteristics that make children more likely to experience instability?

Importantly, our wider aim is to provide a set of measures and tools for local authorities to support internal discussion and monitor levels of placement, school and social worker instability affecting their looked after children. This will allow local authorities to identify groups that are more at risk and in need of further support so that their wellbeing and welfare can be promoted.