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Stability Index for Children in Care

Phase 1: Technical Information

Between 1st April 2015 and 31st March 2016, 100,810 children were looked after by their local authority1. Most of these children will have experienced neglect, and many will have been the victim of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Children are taken into care to protect them from such harmful situations. However, children in care require more than just protection – they must be provided with an environment which enables them to thrive.
Stable relationships are the platform on which children in care can build their lives and achieve their potential. Foster families, residential care home workers, social workers, teachers, friends and family all play an important role in the life of children in care. Consistent, high quality relationships are important; they help children develop secure attachments and enhance feelings of security, support their ability to form relationships as they grow into adults, and enable the development of a sense of belonging and identity.

Instability in children’s experiences of care hinders the opportunity for children to form secure relationships. Moving placements and changing schools may make it harder for children to maintain meaningful relationships with their carers, friends and siblings. Changing professionals such as social workers and independent reviewing officers may mean secure connections are lost and trust must be rebuilt.

In our recent workshops with children in care and care leavers, children and young people recognised that moves and changes in their care can sometimes be a good thing. We share their view that instability does not always lead to a negative outcome, and some disruption may be necessary to achieve permanence for children in care.

However, stability continues to be a key issue raised to us by children and young people with care experience. In our survey of 2,936 children, 4 in 10 children in care told us that they had moved placements one to three times in the last two years, and 1 in 10 told us that they had moved placements four or more times. Children and young people in care also told us that changing foster parents and social workers can make them feel anxious, and the timings of these changes can undermine their performance in school exams.

Recent national studies support what children have been telling us. Placement moves have been associated with lower levels of GCSE attainment for children in care4 and higher levels of psychiatric disorders5, while stable out-of-home placements have been associated with improvements in children’s mental health over 18 months6. While we must be cautious about interpreting these associations causally, in a context where children in care and care leavers are disadvantaged in their immediate and later-life outcomes7, achieving stability in their care experience for looked after children is a priority.