Better Services for Children and Young People Looked After

Project status Active

There is significant concern about the state of care provision for children and young people looked after in Wales. The steady overall increase in the number of children entering care in Wales over the past 20 years, combined with needs which require increasingly complex care packages, are contributing to the rising cost of securing sufficient and suitable placements.

As part of our public services work programme, the Wales Centre for Public Policy has developed two evidence projects. These projects aim to support Welsh public services to improve outcomes for children and young people looked after.

1. Understanding the high rates of care in Wales

Wales has consistently had a higher proportion of children and young people looked after than other UK nations. Within Wales, however, there is significant variation between local authorities and some have seen the rate fall since 2014. Our report Analysis of the Factors Contributing to the High Rates of Care in Wales provides a consolidated analysis of the factors driving these trends. We found:

  • Higher levels of deprivation in an area correlate with higher rates of children and young people looked after;
  • The ‘trigger trio’ of parental factors (domestic violence, substance misuse and parents’ mental ill health) make it more likely that children and young people will be looked after;
  • There is variance in policy and practice among local authorities and the judiciary in relation to children and young people looked after; and
  • Higher spend on children and families’ services is linked to higher unemployment, higher levels of crime, and higher deprivation in an area.

The following infographics drawing on our data analysis show the kinds of placements children in Wales are in and where they’re placed.

This work is currently being updated to include analysis of the most recent data.

2. Reimagining commissioning for children and young people looked after

There is a consensus that better commissioning of placements can improve the quality and stability of those placements and therefore lead to better outcomes for children and young people looked after. Our aim is to develop a picture of the ideal landscape for care placement provision in Wales and identify the steps we need to take to get there. To inform this work, we are exploring the following research questions.

How is care commissioning experienced by children and their families?

We have published a literature review on the experiences of children and young people looked after and their birth families. The review explores how children, young people and their birth families experience the care system and identifies key findings for policymakers and practitioners in Wales.

What can we learn from how placement provision is managed internationally?

We worked with the Institute for Public Care to review international practices on the commissioning of care placements. The review examines five key themes relevant to practice in Wales:

  • The balance between re-unification and permanence in placement practice;
  • The voice of the child and family in placement decisions;
  • The balance between state, private and third sector provision;
  • The types of placement services which support children and young people;
  • The approach to managing state procurement of services.

Our existing work in this area suggests that a significant proportion of the variation in rates in Wales relates to differences in how the public sector supports families experiencing deprivation and the ‘trigger trio’ (domestic abuse, parental substance misuse and parental mental ill health). Drawing on this and following consultations with stakeholders, we are currently scoping two potential new projects to understand how the public sector works with these families and the service provision available to them.