Permanent family placement during middle childhood : outcomes and support
Appropriate long-term care arrangements for children whose birth families are unable or unwilling to raise them is one of the most critical issues confronting providers of children's social services. Knowing something of the longer term outcomes of different types of provision, the factors associated with differential outcomes and requirements for additional services will all assist in the development of practice and policy in this field. This document reports on a decade of publications arising from just such an applied programme of research, to which I have made a significant contribution in terms of research design, data collection, analysis of data and dissemination through both publication and other means. These publications represent a unique and original contribution to the field in terms of methodology and the analysis approach, the samples studied and the relevance of the findings to the policy and practice world. The majority of the publications focus on a sample of children placed for permanence during their middle childhoods, that is children placed between the ages of five and eleven years. This cohort was followed-up at one-and six-years after placement. Some of the findings from the early works were then explored in more depth in subsequent publications. The contribution to knowledge that is evidenced by these publications is reinforced by the use of longitudinal and prospective methods to address some of the weaknesses of previous work in this area. By focussing particularly on children placed during middle childhood, the works have added considerably to the knowledge base concerning permanent family placement for children. This is true not only in looking at disruption rates but also in terms of the factors associated with poorer outcomes among continuing placements in the short-and medium-term. In particular, several of the papers draw attention to the identification of what may prove to be a very important experience in the backgrounds of some looked after children -preferential rejection. This term has been coined to describe children who have been 'singled-out', within a sibling group, for negative attention from birth parents and who are alone in entering the care system. Although numbers were relatively small, the association between this experience and poor outcome in the later permanent placement was found to be highly significant, and held across time, within the samples studied. The papers, taken together, have also substantially informed the debate on likely support and intervention requirements of placed children and their new families and at least one of the selected publications has contributed specifically and significantly to government policy making.