This is a really interesting initiative from the Children’s Commissioner, creating a more in-depth measure of stability for children looked after than the current stability of placement measures (children with three or more placements in a year, and children looked after for 2.5 years aged under 16 who have been in the same placement for the last 2 years, or are placed for adoption).
They used data from the CLA return to identify children who had a placement move in 2015/16, School Census data to identify children looked after who had a change of school in the year (including a move to a new school as part of the normal admissions round), and an exercise with 22 LAs to identify children with a change of social worker in the year.
The researchers estimate that 71% of all children looked after experienced a change in at least one of placement, school or SW in the year. 5% of children had changes in all three areas.
They went on to think about children with “high instability”: several placements in the year, or a mid-year school move, or several changes of social worker, and found that just over a third of children looked after had experienced high instability.
Looking at the data for separate areas, around 10% of children had several placements in the year, and 10% moved school mid-year – there was some correlation between these two groups, as one would expect. 57% of children had at least one change of SW, and 10% had three or more changes of worker. The proportion of children whose SW changes varied a lot between different LAs, from 6% to 77%, which the researchers think may be an artefact of differing data quality. They see a possible link between change of SW and change of placement or of school, though are cautious about making too much of this connexion.
The researchers are planning to develop this analysis and data collection further in 2018, looking particularly at stability over a longer time period.
There is a useful technical report, which also presents data on placement and school moves by LA. Managers may not routinely be looking at the data on children with two placements in the year (as opposed to three) or school moves, so this is a helpful introduction to local level data.
We recommend that individual LAs look at carrying out this piece of work themselves, and considering reporting regularly on indicators linked to this. LA staff usually have an excellent understanding of the effect of multiple placement moves on children , or on the breakdown of long-term placements. They may have less oversight of children who move placement once in the year so do not necessarily fall into the standard placement stability measures. They may also not routinely be reviewing school and placement changes. But they do hold all this information, and as corporate parents have a responsibility to know about these important changes in children’s lives. We think also that monitoring these more in-depth measures of stability over time will enable managers to make some predictions about children who at be at risk (for instance, of going missing, not attending school, or other risky behaviour), and look at how services can support those children before problems become unmanageable.
Projects like this may be difficult to fit into data teams’ routine work – please do get in touch if you’d like to talk about we could support you with this.
Published by the Children’s Commissioner, April 2017