1) Document analysis: In Part 1 of the study, in order to assess the appropriateness of pre-return care plans and applications for the discharge of a Care Order, or the reasons for a child remaining in the care of the birth parent’s during care proceedings and following the making of a Care Order, it is important to benchmark the concerns that led to a Court deciding that a child had suffered or was at risk of suffering significant harm. For those children that were removed from the care of the birth parent/s and subsequently returned home, it would be important to examine the changes that occurred since the Care Order was made, and which have resulted in a decision to return the child to the birth parent/s (research questions 1-4). We therefore propose to collate information from both the social work report produced when the Care Order was made and the LAC review minutes, which document the decision to return the child(ren), as well as the pre-return care plan. In addition to documenting the original concerns resulting in the Care Order, the court report will provide information on the support offered to a family in the past and the problems encountered in securing the child’s safety and well-being via alternate means such as family support. Data collected from the LAC review minutes and the pre-return care plan will provide information on: i) changes made relating to areas of concern, including changes in perceptions of parental cooperation; ii) extant concerns and the support needed to address these; iii) perceptions of the need for ongoing monitoring; and iv) conditions under which the Trust would be confident about seeking a discharge of the Care Order. Gaps in the information will also be recorded. LAC review minutes will also be examined between the making of the Care Order up to the point where the case files are reviewed, providing a continuous record of the progression of the child’s placement with the birth parent/s, and professional decision-making regarding this placement.
2) Semi-structured interviews with birth parents: In Part 2 of the study, in order to examine the extent to which the care plan is delivered and how it is experienced by children and parents, we will undertake semi-structured interviews with parents and children (research question 5). Parents will be interviewed face-to-face (jointly when both parents in two-parent households are willing to be interviewed). Data collection will take place either at the parents’ home or at a location of their choosing. Interviews will be audio-recorded with the permission of the parents, and notes will be taken. It is anticipated that interviews will last approximately one hour. These will focus upon:
- parents’ understanding as to the reasons why the Trust decided that reunification was appropriate (what has changed); why the child remained in their care during and after care proceedings (if this was the case), the function of the Care Order; their understanding of what needs to happen or change (or has already happened or changed) in order for the Trust to apply to the Court for a discharge of the Care Order;
- what support parents receive and have received from Social Services; their perception of their relevance and effectiveness, and perceived gaps in the support they need;
- what it has been/was like for the parents to resume the care of their child, or continue to care for the child during and after care proceedings, including what has gone/went well and what has/did not; how they are coping now.
Additional issues for those with children still at home:
- parents’ perceptions of their own ability to cope with their responsibilities in caring for their children;
- parents’ perceptions of their child(ren)’s behaviour, health, progress at school and general well-being; how well they get with others.
Additional issues for those whose children have subsequently entered foster care or residential care
- parents’ views on the reasons for their children being placed in foster or residential care.
3) Semi-structured interviews with children will focus on how children have experienced either returning to the care of their birth parent/s, remaining with the birth parent/s during care proceedings and following the making of the Care Order, or where they have subsequently gone into foster or residential care (research question 5). The interview will focus around a storybook, designed by the research team, with a topic and related activity to complete in each page. Topics will include: people who are important to me; my school; my hopes for the future; and how I feel when I think about where I used to live and where I live now. Materials will be tailored to meet the differing developmental capabilities of children across a wide range of developmental and chronological age groups. Although some children may be too young to be interviewed, every effort will be made to interview as many children as possible, particularly those children with severe disabilities, and for whom one-to-one communication may be challenging. Children will be interviewed at the same time as their parents, but in an adjacent room. Interviews will last approximately 1 hour and will be audio-recorded with the permission of the participants.