Statement 3: Looked-after children and young people live in stable placements that take account of their needs and preferences.
There is a general belief that looked-after children and young people move too much; 11% of looked-after children and young people have 3 or more placements in a year7. Outcomes for those who have many changes of placement are worse than for those who do not in terms of psychological, social and academic outcomes. Externalising behaviour, older age of children, longer time in care, residential care as a first placement setting, separation from siblings, and experience of multiple social workers are all factors that are associated with increased placement instability. Key protective factors includes placements with siblings, placements with older foster carers, more experienced foster-carers with strong parenting skills, and placements where foster carers provide opportunities for children to develop intellectually.
Although most moves are unsettling for children and young people, not all movement is bad. There may be a good reason why the child or young person needs to move, for example to safeguard the child or young person or because they do not get on with their carer; what is important is the appropriateness of the move and the quality of the placement in terms of whether the child is settled, happy and doing well at school. Any move should involve listening to the views of the child and taking these into account.
Stability is multifaceted and as well as physical placement stability, also includes stability of relationships, educational stability and continuity of contact with family, relatives and friends. Key to placement stability is identifying the right placement for each child or young person. This involves having good assessment and needs analysis processes to identify the individual and family needs and then using this information to get the best placement for the child or young person.
Local authorities need to have a range of placement options available to meet the needs of each child or young person. This includes foster care, residential care and other routes to permanence such as family and friends care, special guardianship and adoption. Recruiting the right carers is key to promoting stability, and should include carers for babies, adolescents and those with disabilities. There needs to be a full assessment of the child or young person’s needs, which includes taking their views into account, followed by an appropriate referral based on their needs. Having an appropriate and full assessment helps to ensure that the child or young person is cared for in the most appropriate placement option, including staying put in a placement post-18 years.
A substantial number of looked-after children and young people return home from care; in the year ending 31 March 2012, 37% of children returned to the care of their family8. It is important that before children return home there is careful assessment of needs, evidence of improvements in parenting capacity, slow and well managed return home and the provision of services to support children and their families. Not all children who return home remain there; research shows that almost half of children who return subsequently re-enter care. These repeat re-entries to care have an impact on outcomes for the child or young person and also to local authority costs.
Links to Ofsted Judgements
This statement links to the following Ofsted judgements:
'Where the plan for a child or young person is to return home, there is evidence of purposeful work to help the family to change so it is safe for the child to return. Further episodes of being looked after are avoided unless they are provided as part of a plan of support.'
'Children and young people live in safe, stable and appropriate homes or families with their brothers and sisters when this is in their best interests. They move only in accordance with care plans, when they are at risk of harm or are being harmed. They do not live in homes that fail to meet their needs and they do not move frequently.'
'Children and young people are effectively prepared for, and carefully matched with, a permanent placement. Their wishes and feelings are understood and influence the decisions about where they live.'
'Pathway planning is effective and plans (including transition planning for looked-after children with learning difficulties and/or disabilities) address all young people’s needs and are updated as circumstances change.'
Tips, tools and practice examples
Suggestions for evidence that could be collected to assess performance against this quality statement include:
- having a range of placements to meet the needs of looked-after children and young people
- children and young people's satisfaction with their placement
- availability of specialist placements for children and young people with complex needs or challenging behaviour; they are stabilised and then moved on
- preparation of looked-after children and young people for placement (for example pre-placement induction)
- how placements are managed
- attachments formed by children and young people
- maintaining meaningful relationships with carers, siblings and others
This resource from research in practice includes a frontline briefing and tool on assessing parent's capacity to change. It provides a framework to guide assessment and partnership working with families (log in required).
The Department for Education's data pack illustrates key factors that contribute to placement stability for looked-after children and for those children returning home from care. It also aims to inform the strategic and operational decisions taken by directors of children's services and lead members, commissioners, managers, social workers and independent reviewing officers.
This document focuses on effective care planning, with a focus on the child, and is designed to improve the quality and consistency of care planning, placement and case review for looked-after children and young people.
This web page on the NSPCC website includes a report on what's best for children returning home from care. It looks at the problems of reunification and outlines innovative new approaches to support children returning home from care.
This web page from Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) is part of the resource on fostering. The web page provides an overview of key findings on placement stability.