A new study by the University of York has just begun, to look at outcomes for maltreated children by examining whether such children are better served in care or at home. It’s a very important study, as much research already shows that children in care suffer worse outcomes than those who stay at home. It is also the first of its kind – the researchers are going to try to collect more complex data so that they can fine-tune the current view.

The focus will be on children with similar backgrounds and histories, the only difference being some children will have been supported at home, while others will have been taken into care.

The most poignant issue to be addressed is whether children in care fare worse because of the abuse they experienced prior to being placed in the care system, or whether the care system is responsible. We imagine the answer will be both, depending on the child, the circumstances and the care homes themselves. But we also think there should be a heavy lean in the data suggesting that the care system as it stands doesn’t really offer care at all, and has a lot to answer for.

The website for this study tells us that three key questions remain unanswered. These are:

  • Does being in care compensate children for previous disadvantage and improve their wellbeing, from a frequently low starting point?
  • Or does it instead compound the disadvantages they bring with them into care?
  • In other words, do children who enter care do better or worse than children with similar backgrounds and histories who remain at home?

We are told the aims are:

  • To investigate whether outcomes for children admitted to care due to concerns about maltreatment (care group) are better or worse than for maltreated children who remain at home and are the subject of a Child Protection Plan (CPP) (home group).
  • To investigate the key moderators and mediators of outcomes for maltreated children who enter care (before the age of six years) and similar children supported at home:
    • which risk and protective factors predict recorded maltreatment, admission to care and developmental outcomes for maltreated children?
  • To investigate what is associated with better or worse outcomes within a population of children with care experience:
    • for which children, in which circumstances, does care promote positive outcomes, compensating for previous disadvantage?
    • for which children, in which circumstances, does care compound the effects of abuse, neglect and other adversities experienced before they become looked after?
  • To inform policy-makers and practitioners of the circumstances in which support at home, or entry to care, can best promote the safety and development of maltreated children.
  • To explore, decision-making regarding admission to care for maltreated children compared to the support provided to families to support decisions that children should remain at home.

The study hopes to shed light on the successes or failures of the care system, evidence which might suggest children are better off being supported at home and key messages for professionals in the sector about caring for these children.

The project runs from this month (April), through to March 2016.

We will be very interested to read the findings.

Hat tip to Carter Brown for tweeting this story earlier.