A new report led by researchers at Population Data Science at Swansea University has revealed critical insights into entry routes, pathways and placement outcomes for the very youngest children in the care system in Wales.
“Born into Care: Entry Routes, Pathways, and Outcomes for the Youngest Children in Wales,” a report produced by the Family Justice Data Partnership (FJDP), explored the use of voluntary and compulsory entry routes into the care system, shedding light on the experiences of newborns and infants.
The report aimed to:
- Measure the number of infants that enter the care system in Wales.
- Look at how this differs in different areas and how it’s linked to poverty.
- Explore why infants are placed in care.
- Understand how infants move within the care system.
- Increasing Infant Care Numbers: More infants are entering care in Wales, with newborns making up 38% of infants entering care over the total study period.
- Poverty-Related Trends: A strong link exists between infant entries into care and local poverty levels, with higher poverty areas having more infants entering care.
- Ethnic Diversity: The ethnicity breakdown of infants entering care was similar to the ethnicity breakdown of all infants in Wales, with 88% of infants entering care being White.
- Voluntary vs. Compulsory Entry: Over half of infants enter care with voluntary agreements from parents, but over time, this has decreased relative to interim care orders, reaching an equal split by 2020/21.
- Regional Disparities: Local authorities and Designated Family Judge areas show differing preferences for entry routes, and choices appear to be based on local practices rather than reflecting the needs of the child and family.
- Transition to Compulsory Care: Most (63%) voluntary arrangements become compulsory within two years.
- Drivers for Voluntary Entry: Abuse or neglect drives 57% of voluntary infant entries to care.
- Separation from Parents: Newborns are commonly separated from their parents, regardless of the entry route.
- Initial Foster Care Placement: Initially, most infants are placed with unrelated foster carers; 15% entering care under interim care orders remain at home with parents.
- Entry Route Impact: Entry route appears to influence placement outcomes at two years, with greater family preservation for infants entering under voluntary arrangements.
- Rare Long-Term Voluntary Arrangements: Long-term voluntary care arrangements for infants are infrequent.
- Placement Instability: Infants, especially those under six months, face significant placement instability, with around 30% experiencing three or more placements in two years.
- Re-Entry in Minority Cases: A minority of infants exit and re-enter care within two years, requiring further study to determine their long-term outcomes.
This comprehensive research, conducted by the Family Justice Data Partnership (FJDP) led by Swansea University in collaboration with Lancaster University, utilised child-level records from the Welsh Government’s Children Looked After (CLA) Census.
Dr Laura Cowley, Research Officer and Data Scientist at Population Data Science at Swansea University and lead researcher, said, “This study provides valuable insights into the complex dynamics of infant care in Wales, offering a basis for policy discussions and potential improvements in the child welfare system.
Moving forward, gaps in our understanding can be addressed by further analysing the Welsh Government CLA data, and complementing population-level linked data studies with qualitative insights. This initial analysis of the CLA data, which is held and maintained by the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank, represents a significant step forward in meeting the needs of infants in the care system.”