Better Services for Looked After Children

Project status Active

Improving outcomes for children in care is high up on the agenda, not only for local authorities as their legally responsible guardians, but for social services, education, health and housing services, the judiciary, and of course, civil society. We are working on two evidence projects which aim to support Welsh public service leaders to improve support and outcomes for looked after children, by considering both the supply of and demand for care. The first reimagines the commissioning of care for looked after children; and the second explores evidence on the key intervention points to safely reduce the numbers of children entering care.

  1. Reimagining commissioning for looked after children

There is significant concern about the state of care provision for looked after children, and there is consensus that better commissioning of placements can lead to decisive entry into care and high quality and stable placements. The steady overall increase in the number of children entering care in Wales over the past 20 years (StatsWales, 2017), combined with increasingly complex needs, are contributing to the rising cost of securing sufficient and suitable foster and residential care placements. For local authorities, funding such care has become ever more difficult, and matching children to placements that meet their needs can be very challenging. Overall, the experiences of and outcomes for care-experienced children and young people remain poor (Welsh Government, 2016).

The aim of this project is to create space for fresh thinking on the commissioning of care placements for children, specifically foster and residential care. We will examine the evidence on different options with the potential to improve the commissioning of care and will adopt a children’s rights approach to understand the experiences of looked after children and care-experienced children and young people, and those who work closely with them. The project will support decision-making and stimulate discussion with care commissioners, providers, public service leaders and policy-makers. These are the key research questions we are seeking to address:

  1. What is the current picture of commissioning of care placements for looked after children in Wales?
  2. How is care commissioning experienced by children and by others involved? (Collate experiences from multiple perspectives and triangulate with policy priorities)
  3. What can we learn from how care placements are commissioned internationally?
  4. What would an ideal landscape of care placement provision look like? (What types of experiences and provision is valued and required and how does this align/differ between children and young people, commissioners and providers?)
  5. How can care commissioning contribute to the ideal landscape of provision articulated in RQ4? (What is the extent of the shift required and what are the obstacles and enablers?)

A desk review of existing evidence will be coupled with input from social care commissioning experts, researchers and senior practitioners (RQ1-3) and followed by facilitated blue-sky thinking and stakeholder visioning workshops (RQ4-5). Together these will inform a final report that will synthesise key options and ideas, policy recommendations and next steps in practice.

  1. Key intervention points to safely reduce the number of children entering the care system

There are many views about why the rate of entry into care has overall continued upwards over the past 20 years, yet there has not been a consolidated analysis of the major factors responsible for the trend across Wales. CASCADE, (the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre based in Cardiff University), is undertaking this analysis for England and we are working closely with them to extend this analysis to Wales. The aim is to identify (i) the main causes of the rate of entry in care in Wales, and (ii) key intervention points that system leaders can monitor over time, and we will update and expand on existing studies in this area. The key research questions are as follows:

  1. What are the rates of entry into care across the 22 local authorities in Wales, and how have they changed over time? Once moderating factors are taken into account (e.g., deprivation) which local authority areas (or clusters) are the outliers?
  2. In outlier cases, which factors may be responsible for the rate of entry into care? Therefore, how can variances be explained?
  3. How does the analysis for entry into care in Wales compare with the emergent analysis for England?
  4. Given this analysis of the potential explanatory factors, which are the most promising points of intervention for system leaders interested in monitoring and addressing rates of entry into care?

We have reviewed existing studies exploring a range of potential explanatory factors that may influence rates of looked after children. From these, we have identified a series of measures that we will include in our analysis to estimate the extent to which these can be regarded as moderating factors e.g. deprivation, parental factors, local authority spend on different elements of children’s social services and education, outcomes of care order applications.   

The foundation for this project is a quantitative analysis of aggregate figures accessed through publicly available data. The findings will be presented for consideration and interpretation by key strategic stakeholders, which will inform our response to the research questions outlined above.

Context and coordination

There is significant activity underway across Wales aimed at improving outcomes for looked after children and preventing unnecessary entries into care. There is an active Ministerial Advisory Group on outcomes for children, the Welsh Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee is receiving evidence on its inquiry into Looked-After Children, while the Care Crisis Review has recently reported on children in care across England and Wales. We would like to thank policy, academic and practitioner contacts from across the following organisations who have helped us shape these projects so far, and we look forward to ongoing work with them and others to contribute and add insight to this agenda:

Children’s Commissioning Consortium Cymru (4Cs); Association of Fostering and Adoption Cymru; National Fostering Framework; Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru (Cafcass Cymru); Children’s Commissioner’s Office; Social Care Wales; Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA); Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS); All Wales Heads of Children’s Services (AWHOCS); Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre at Cardiff University (CASCADE); members of the consortium establishing the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care (for England); the Ministerial Advisory Group on Outcomes for Children; and Welsh Government.