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Child welfare inequalities in the UK

30 October 2018

Holding hands

Children in Northern Ireland are 80% less likely to be in foster or residential care than children in Wales, according to a study.  

Professor Jonathan Scourfield and Dr Martin Elliott from Cardiff University contributed to the UK-wide research that analysed the data of 36,000 children in contact with child protection services.

Findings showed that if Wales could reduce the number of children in care to the same rate as Northern Ireland, it would equate to a reduction of 2,000 fewer Welsh children living away from home.

Youngsters in Northern Ireland were also found to be 50% less likely to be in foster or residential care than children in England and 130% less likely than children in Scotland. Overall, if the rest of the UK was to follow the same policies as Northern Ireland, it would mean 31,500 fewer children in care.

The study revealed that a child in Wales, living in one of the most deprived 20% of the UK’s neighbourhoods, was 13 times more likely to be looked after away from parents, relatives or friends than a child in the least deprived 20%. Similar trends were found across the UK.

Researchers also discovered large differences in where looked after children were placed. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, around half of all looked after children went to stay with another relative or friend, compared to a little over 25% of looked after children in Wales, and only one in six in England.

Data from 55 local authorities or trusts were collected from a specific date in 2015 for the study. Researchers analysed children’s ages, genders, ethnic categories, and the type of abuse or neglect experienced if they were on child protection plans.  They also assessed the deprivation levels of the areas in which each child lived.

Dr Martin Elliott, based in the Children's Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) in the School of Social Sciences, said: “There are stark inequalities here, both within and between countries in the UK. Policymakers could take lessons from what’s happening in Northern Ireland. An important part of reducing the need for children to come into care in the first place is by making efforts to reduce family poverty.”

Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK is available here.

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