Statistical Information 3

Age the child first entered care

 Children who first entered care under one year old were 2½ times more likely to be adopted by 2002 than those who first entered care aged between 1-2 years old.  Most of the children (70%) who were adopted by 2004 were less than one year old when they first entered care.  The older children were when they first entered care, the more likely they were to be fostered.

Percentage of children in each pathway by age first entered care

In 2004 of those children placed with birth parents 45% were under 1 year old when they first entered care, 39% were between 1 and 2 years old and 16% were between 3 and 4 years old. At that time, of those children placed with adoptive parents 70% were under 1 year old when they first entered care, 22% were between 1 and 2 years old and 8% were between 3 and 4 years old. Of those children placed in relative foster care 43% were under 1 year old when they first entered care, 33% were between 1 and 2 years old and 24% were between 3 and 4 years old. Of those children placed in non-relative foster care 35% were under 1 year old when they first entered care, 45% were between 1 and 2 years old and 20% were between 3 and 4 years old. Of those children on residence orders care 67% were under 1 year old when they first entered care, 27% were between 1 and 2 years old and 6% were between 3 and 4 years old. In total, 54% were under 1 year old when they first entered care, 32% were between 1 and 2 years old and 14% were between 3 and 4 years old.

The figures show that as the age of the child increased, the percentage of children in the adoption and Residence Order pathways decreased, with only 8% and 7% respectively first entering care at between three and four years old.  In contrast, the birth parent and relative foster care pathways showed a less dramatic decline, and the non-relative foster pathway had the highest percentage (45%) of children who first entered care aged between one and two years old.    

Percentage of children in each age group when first entered care by pathway

In 2004 of all the children who entered care under the age of 1, 21% returned to live with their birth parent(s), 55% were adopted. 5% lived in relative foster care, 14% in non-relative care and 5% on residence orders. Of all the children who entered care between the ages of 1 and 2, 31% returned to live with their birth parent(s), 29% were adopted. 6% lived in relative foster care, 30% in non-relative care and 4% on residence orders. Of all the children who entered care between the ages of 3 and 4 years, 31% returned to live with their birth parent(s), 24% were adopted. 10% lived in relative foster care, 33% in non-relative care and 2% on residence orders.

Although younger children are more likely to be adopted, the figures show that as many as 29% of the 115 children who were 1-2 years old when first entered care, and 25% of the 49 children who were 3-4 years old, had been adopted by 2004. 

Implications

In terms of the system in England and Wales, Sinclair et al. (2005, p.93) found that adoption was essentially restricted to children under one year old, and that ‘adoption and birth family were essentially the only options for this age group’.  However, although adoption rates are very high for children who enter care under one year old, our findings present quite a different picture, with sizeable percentages of children who enter care between the ages of one and four being adopted.  Furthermore, 20% of children under the age of one when they first entered care were still in foster care after four years.  Clearly, adoption was not the only option for this age group in Northern Ireland.   This appears to reflect the variation in long-term placement practices across Northern Ireland.  For example, in the Southern Board area, no children who entered care before the age of one remained in foster care, whereas this figure is as high as 52% in the Western Board area. 

References

Sinclair, I., Wilson, K. and Gibbs, I. (2005)  Foster children: Where they go and how they get on.  London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Length of time the case was open

Children whose case was open less than a year in 2000 were 4 times more likely to be returned to birth parents by 2002 than those whose case had been open between 1-2 years, and 25 times more likely than those whose case had been open between 3-4 years. 

The longer children stay in care, the less likely it is that they will return to birth parents (Kelly 1989; Biehal, 2006). 

Implications

Our findings support other research (Kelly, 1989; Biehal, 2006) which suggests that children are more likely to return to birth parents in the early stages after being taken into care, and that the longer they stay in care, the less likely it is that they will return to birth parents. This has major implications for Health and Social Care Trusts in terms of ensuring that the necessary resources are made available to foster and adoptive parents who are tasked with providing long-term care for those children who do not return home.

References

Kelly, G. (1989)  Patterns of care: The first twelve months.  Belfast: Department of Health and Social Services. 

Biehal, N. (2006)  Reuniting looked after children with their families.  London: National Children’s Bureau.

Developmental problems

Eighteen percent of all the children in the study presented developmental delay prior to 2000.

Children who showed evidence of developmental delay prior to March 2000 were twice as likely to return to birth parents by 2002 than those who did not. 

Implications

Whatever the reason for the increased likelihood of children with developmental delay returning to their birth parents, these findings suggest that Social Services need to ensure that adequate supports are provided to birth parents when children return home from care, particularly where the child may have some form of disability.  Adoptive parents and foster parents have advocacy services available to them, such as Adoption UK, the Fostering Network, and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).  There is a need for the development of an advocacy service for parents whose children have returned home from care.    


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