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Social Work (Children and Young People)
Home or care? Pathways and outcomes for children in a multi-ethnic cohort

Researchers: Professor Nina Biehal and Helen Baldwin (SPSW), Jim Wade and Dr Linda Cusworth(SPRU), Professor Kate Pickett (Health Sciences), Professor Bette Chambers (IEE), Dr Louise Tracey (IEE), Dr Victoria Allgar (HYMS) and Professor Panos Vostanis (Department of Psychology, University of Leicester)

Funder: Economic and Social Research Council

Duration: April 2014 to March 2016


It is widely considered that outcomes for ‘looked after’ children (children in care) are generally poor.  Research has pointed to poor education outcomes, high rates of mental health problems, disproportionate involvement in substance abuse and crime and the over-representation of care leavers among the unemployed, homeless and prison populations. However, most studies to date have found it hard to disentangle the effects of being in care from the impact of the difficult experiences that led to their admission. One of the reasons for this has been the difficulty of collecting data on children and their family backgrounds before they are taken into care. As a result, key questions remain unanswered:

  • 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?


  • To investigate whether outcomes for children admitted to care are better or worse than for children who remain supported at home by Children's Services (including those who have been the subject of a Child Protection Plan).
  • To investigate the key moderators and mediators of outcomes for children who enter care (before the age of eight years) and for similar children supported at home.
  • 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?
    • for which children, in which circumstances, does care compound the effects of 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 children's safety and development.
  • To explore, decision-making regarding admission to care, compared to the support provided to families to support decisions that children should remain at home.


  • secondary analysis of data from two exisiting datasets; the Born in Bradford (BiB) Cohort Study and Bradford Council's administrative databases
  • a survey of social workers,
  • interviews with foster carers and parents,
  • assessment of children’s language development and early reading ability.

In these ways the study will gather information on children’s histories and their health and development, emotional, behavioural or attachment difficulties (if any), language development and early reading skills, safety and overall well-being.

Policy and practice aims

The study will provide:

  • important new information about the successes or failures of the care system in compensating maltreated children for their early life disadvantages,
  • evidence on the circumstances in which outcomes may be positive if children are supported at home or, alternatively, when admission to care is likely to be a better alternative,
  • key messages for policymakers and social work practitioners concerning assessment and intervention with children.

Publications and presentations

All publications and presentations will appear on the York Research Database please click the link to view them.

If you require further information about the project, please contact Helen Baldwin email Helen Baldwin, Linda Cusworth email Linda Cusworth or Nina Biehal email Nina Biehal

Associated Research
Associated Research
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