The experience of children in the care system informs much of the work carried out by Anne Longfield, OBE Children’s Commissioner for England. Many of the calls to the Commissioner’s Help at Hand advice line involves children worried about unwanted changes of carer, social worker or the impact of school moves. The Children in Care Stability Index has taken these issues together and is using the Stability Index to shine a light on the importance of stability.
The first report ‘Stability Index 2017’ measured changes of carer (‘placement’), school moves and changes in social worker. Findings in the ‘Stability Index 2018’ provide a national overview of the 2018 analysis and reveal areas of improvement and also decline to children’s experience of stability. The data shows for example that at least 1,300 children (3% of those in care in both 2015/16 and 2016/17) experienced multiple changes of home (‘placement’) moves in both years. This is especially worrying and has resulted in work with one council to explore why some children experience multiple moves and the impact on achieving better outcomes. Work is also underway to start building sibling relationships into the Index.
In order to also join up the voices of children in the care system and give them a louder and more effective voice across national networks, a digital hub linking children in care councils across the country is being created. This year the Office of the Children’s Commissioner will run the hub, steered by an advisory group of 21 young people in care. It will also continue to attend regional children in care council meet-ups around the country in order to ensure looked after children have a louder voice in Whitehall.
Stability Index 2018 – Headlines
- Most children in care experience some kind of instability in one form or another throughout the course of a year. Only 1 in 4 children in care experienced no placement move, no school move and no social worker change within a year. Only 1 in 10 children experienced none of these changes over two years.
- Some children experience several different types of instability all within the same year. Nearly 2,400 children (6% of children in care attending school) experienced a placement move, a school move and a change in social worker all in 2016/17. Furthermore, over 350 children (1% of those in care attending school) experienced multiple placement moves, a mid-year school move and multiple social worker changes all within the same year.
- Some children experience repeated instability over two years. Over 3,000 children (6% of those in care in both 2015/16 and 2016/17) experienced four or more placement moves over two years, including 1,300 children (3% of those in care in both 2015/16 and 2016/17) who experienced multiple placement moves in both years. Among children in care who were enrolled at school, around 1,600 (4%) experienced a school move two years in a row. Elsewhere, nearly 4,400 children (6% of all children in care) experienced multiple social worker changes two years in a row.
- Over the longer term, most children in care experience a placement move. Less than half of children (among those in care in both 2014/15 and 2016/17) experienced no placement changes over three years; 3 in 10 children experienced two or more changes, and nearly 2,500 children (6%) experienced five or more changes. Looking over four years among children in care in both 2012/13 and 2016/17, we find that only 2 in 5 experienced no placement changes; more than 1 in 3 experienced two or more changes, and 2,700 children (9%) experienced five or more changes.
- Children who experience instability are at risk of having it compounded by more instability in future. Those experiencing multiple placement moves this year are three times more likely to experience it again next year. Children who experience a mid-year school move this year are 50% more likely to experience it again next year.
- At a national level, rates of instability are broadly unchanged. We find similar rates of instability for 2016/17 as those we found last year for 2015/16. Around 1 in 10 children in care – 7,500 children –experienced multiple placement moves in 2016/17, while just under 7 in 10 children experienced no placement moves. Among children in care who are also enrolled at school, just over 1 in 10 (4,300 children) experienced a mid-year school move.
- Social worker changes remain significantly more common than placement or school changes.Nearly 19,000 children experienced two or more social worker changes in 2016/17. This works out to around 1 in 4 children in care – broadly the same rate as in 2015/16.
- There remains wide variation in rates of instability across the country. The proportion of children experiencing multiple placement moves ranged from 3% to 19% across local authorities, while the proportion of children experiencing a mid-year school move ranged from 2% to 24%.
- More analysis is needed to understand this variation. The variation we see can only be partly explained by the factors that we have national data on. Many local authorities who appear to be similar in term of these factors have different rates of instability, and vice versa.
- Looking across local authorities, there is no clear link between participating in Department for Education programmes and higher rates of stability. The average rates of instability among the Opportunity Areas or areas involved in the Innovation Programme are around the national average. The same is true for local areas involved in the Partners in Practice Programme – although those whose programme relates to looked after children seem to have rates of instability that are very slightly slower than the national average.
- Some children are at significantly higher risk of experiencing instability and may need additional support. Older children, children who enter care at the beginning of adolescence, children with additional behavioural or emotional needs, and children whose legal status indicates more vulnerability, are all more likely to experience multiple placement moves.
- Children in better-performing schools experience more stability. Children in schools rated as “Outstanding” by Ofsted are half as likely to experience a mid-year school move compared to children in schools rated “Inadequate”. Furthermore, even if children in schools with a better Ofstedrating do move, it is more likely to be another school with a better Ofsted rating.
- Local authority workforce issues affect the stability that children experience. Children in care are significantly more likely to experience social worker changes in local authorities with higher social worker turnover rates and vacancy rates.
- We will share our findings with local authorities to help them identify where they can improve stability. With data on placement and school instability for every local authority, we will write toevery Director of Children’s Services and Lead Member for Children’s Services in England providingthe figures for their local area. We will also be asking them to adopt the Stability Index as a tool for identifying any areas of concern and measuring progress and improvement.
- We want to see the Stability Index informing Ofsted’s inspections of local authority children’sservices. We will be asking Ofsted to require evidence from local authorities on the on stability of their looked after children, referring to Stability Index data and reports where available, as part of Ofsted’s inspections and quality assessments.
In her Foreword Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England comments:
The need for improvement is even more urgent as the number of children entering the care system rises. I want every one of those children to do well. I hope the long-term work we are producing with the Stability Index will help councils to monitor trends and, most importantly, to drive improvements so that every child in care in England has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.
Who could disagree with this! Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive and succeed.
Download at source to read the full report: Stability Index 2018
Video summary for children and young people:
Commenting on the Stability Index 2018, Sharon Martin, Chair of the National IRO Managers Partnership, said:
‘The Stability Index 2018 shows that overall annual figures have hardly changed from last year. This means that not enough children are getting the chance to experience settled relationships. I recognise that sometimes change cannot be avoided. Change is sometimes necessary and usually happens for very good reasons. However, fact is that repeated disruption and upheaval, especially over the long term, is never a good thing for any child. The Stability Index is an important reminder of the importance of stability as the basis for children having increased opportunities and reaching their full potential. I welcome this level of scrutiny by the Children’s Commissioner.
‘Stability can be the basis of transformed life chances. We know that children who experience safe, secure and happy relationships have a much higher chance of thriving throughout childhood and into their adult life. The effects of a move of home, school or a change of social worker can be devastating for a child.
‘We should expect children to experience settled and nurturing care across all situations. Independent Reviewing Officers, Social Workers, Foster Carers and first line supervisors have a vital role to play in considering the impact of disruption to a child’s experience.
‘The onus must be on us all to secure stability for every child as the basis for building increased opportunities and better outcomes for children. This must be our priority and our challenge.’