At least one in five children in England allowed to return to potentially dangerous homes under supervision orders are back in court within five years having been subjected to further significant harm, according to research.
Children aged under five placed under supervision orders were at greater risk of returning to court than older children, the four-year study found (pdf). At least 8% of all children under supervision orders returned to court within 12 months of previous proceedings.
The study also found that professionals were deeply frustrated by the lack of powers available to help them keep vulnerable children safe, and wanted local authorities to be given “more teeth”.
The study followed 19,296 children placed under supervision orders between 2010-11 and 2016-17.
“Our study looked at the most vulnerable children in society who have experienced or are likely to experience significant harm as a result of the parenting they have received,” said Prof Judith Harwin, who led the Lancaster University study.“Numbers could be higher because it is likely that a proportion of children returned home to parents have not been captured by our study.”
In-depth study of four local authorities gave an insight into some of the pressures on parents that could undermine children’s wellbeing. At least 49% of children in the study were exposed to financial hardship and 56% to housing problems. These issues topped the list of all parental problems to which the children were exposed and got worse during the study.
“Over the course of the four-year follow-up, an increased proportion of children were exposed to harm, indicating a deteriorating picture of parenting capacity,” Harwin said. “These are arguably treatable issues which, if public services and social welfare provision were better resourced, could readily be addressed.”
The report is published at a critical time in family justice, with the number of children in care and supervision applications having more than doubled since 2007-08.
Dr Bachar Alrouh, another of the report’s co-authors, said this had created significant pressures on family courts and children’s services. “Expectations have risen as resources have decreased to deal with rising demand,” he said.
The recent Care Crisis Review found that families themselves were an underused resource and said more use could be made of special guardianship orders to place at-risk children with another family member.
The study found children placed under such orders had very low rates of return to court: just 5% of had further care proceedings within five years.
Rob Street, the director of justice at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “This important study provides much-needed national evidence on how supervision and special guardianship orders are being used.”
Teresa Williams, the director of strategy for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), said the report was important. “It raises questions as to whether arrangements for children are sufficient to protect them from further harm,” she said.
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