Children who experience the UK’s care system are twice as likely to die earlier than children who remain with their parents, a study has revealed.

The research was led by professor Amanda Sacker at University College London’s (UCL) institute of epidemiology and healthcare and tracked more than 350,000 people between 1971 and 2013, using government data.

The study, entitled, “The health and well-being of adults who had been in care up to 40 years earlier: are there differences by type of care?” was published in September 2018, but has since been followed by other long-term studies which also paint a stark picture of outcomes for children who enter Britain’s care system.

A report published in 2019 by Christian Munthe, a bioethics professor at Gothenburg University, found that foster care systems in the UK, other parts of Europe and the US adversely affected children’s development, and did not appear to offer better outcomes when compared to children who were raised in ‘adverse’ birth family environments.

Professor Sacker’s report found that over a 42-year period, adults who had experienced the care system as children were 70% more likely to die prematurely than those who had not spent time in care.

She also noted that while there had been a 40% increased risk for children who had been in care compared with those living with parents in 1971, this had surged to 360% in 2001.

The study also found that the likelihood of dying early had doubled in recent years, though the researchers were unable to determine the cause, or causes, of that increase.

The research highlights incidents relating to mental illness like self harm, as the number one cause of premature deaths among care experienced people.

Other conclusions in the report include the confirmation that the researchers’ findings could not be explained by childhood demographic and socioeconomic background, and that decades after children and youths were placed in out-of-home care, they were still likely to report worse health than children who grew up in parental households.

None of this will come as a shock to child protection reformers, who are all too aware that the system is in need of a cultural, training and evidence-based practice rehaul.

You can access the study’s summary here.

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