A new report launched by the Children’s Commissioner for England shines a light on the difficulties faced by thousands of children each year bouncing around the social care system.
The Stability Index is a new measure of stability for looked after children. It brings together data on care placements, schools and social workers, in order to understand for the first time the type and scale of instability experienced by these children.
The analysis reveals that over a 12-month period between 2015 and 2016:
The study also shows that 1 in 10 children in the care system moved school in the middle of the academic year, a change which can be particularly disruptive to education and exams. Children in care are three times more likely to experience a mid-year school move than schoolchildren in general.
While placement changes do increase the likelihood of changing school, the research also found that in just over half of cases, children in care changed school during the academic year without a change in their placement – meaning that other factors are also playing a role.
Research has shown that all children need stability while they grow up, and that a lack of continuity in care and education is strongly linked with lower attainment. Instability in care can also exacerbate existing behavioral and emotional difficulties, making it more difficult for children to establish relationships going forward, which can contribute to further placement breakdown and a deeper sense of rejection.
The Children’s Commissioner’s office ran four workshops with children with care experience who described how instability can damage trust and education:
“It matters for all children that they don’t move a lot.” (Teenage boy).
“I’m not willing to build up relationships again when they’re going to leave again in a few months.” (Teenage girl).
One girl told us she had not attended school for two years because she was in and out of care. Another girl said that she was told by text message in the middle of her GCSEs that she would be changing schools.
The Stability Index aims to improve understanding of levels of instability for looked after children and to help local authorities and schools reduce unnecessary changes. The index will be developed further, in partnership with councils and other agencies, to help them track progress in reducing unnecessary or unplanned moves.
Responding to today’s report, The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said:
“Children in the care system crave stability, just like any other child. Especially for these kids, having reliable, consistent adults in their lives is critical to helping them flourish and overcome problems they may have experienced in the past.
“Sometimes changes are unavoidable and occur for the right reasons. But when ‘pinball kids’ are pinged around the system, it can damage them and their future prospects.
“Many of these children enter care with complex issues and are highly vulnerable. We must find a better, more consistent way of meeting their needs.”