SCIE press release

Returning children home from care

03 December 2012

Social workers make many critical decisions that call for analytical skills. One important challenge is deciding whether or not to return children home from care. Today the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) reveal that whilst evidence is still growing, we can identify some of the essential components of social work practice most likely to improve decisions.

A new Research Briefing from SCIE gives an overview of research evidence that currently exists. It's been written with Professor June Thoburn from the University of East Anglia (UEA). A child may finally settle into a home that is permanent, by, for instance, being adopted, living with relatives, or returning to their birth family. This is called the "permanence option". However, for those children who have been maltreated, going home to live with a parent is the least successful "permanence" possibility.

SCIE's Deputy Chief Executive, Amanda Edwards, says:

This is a really sensitive issue and needs to be handled with skill and care, so that the child's interests are uppermost, but remembering that the child is part of a family. Social workers can make such a difference to children's lives and to the family they're from; for example a well planned return home, with support provided for as long as it is needed, can lead to improved outcomes for children. No decision can be taken lightly and in highlighting current evidence the Research Briefing provides valuable knowledge to inform decision making.

Different councils allocated widely varied amounts of resources to decision-making on when to return children home. However, SCIE also say that, where there is evidence of good practice, there is lots we can all learn. Quality decision-making, planning and management of the transition back home, can lead to children being happier and to the placement working well.


One issue to address, is how families can meet the ongoing needs of those children returning home. They may need high intensity, relationship-based social work that includes workers from agencies such as education, housing and health. Well-planned "respite" and short-term placements can help. Foster carers, trained in working towards returning children home, can increase the chances of parents with complex problems meeting their children's long-term needs. Although parents and children sometimes understand why removal is inevitable, they argue that "voluntary" care is less daunting.


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