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Local authorities ‘lack focus’ on improving reunification practice, report finds

A new report by NSPCC finds over half of local authorities surveyed have no reunification policy or strategy.

29/01/24

Local authorities ‘lack focus’ on improving reunification practice, report finds

Local authorities have a lack of focus on improving reunification practice, a new report has found.

Reunification is the most common way for children in England to leave care. There is, however, a large number of children who later return to care.

New research commissioned by the NSPCC and Action for Children ser out to find out why local authorities in England are facing challenges in delivering effective reunification practice. Researchers conducted an England-wide online survey of local authorities, with 75 responses, to look at what guides reunification practice; how decisions are made before and after reunification; what support was available; and how reunification practice is monitored and improved. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with senior staff from six local authorities to discuss their approach to reunification practice.

The research team discovered that there is a lack of focus on improving reunification practice. Of the 75 local authorities who responded to the survey, over half (56%) said they did not have a reunification policy or strategy while only one in five (19%) have a standalone reunification team to coordinate reunifications.

They also found that local authorities are not providing enough support either before or after reunification. Most local authorities surveyed said they were not providing enough support either before reunification (78%) or after reunification (63%) and would like to offer more but that funding was the number one barrier to families getting support with reunification. Of those that said they wanted to provide more support before reunification, funding constraints were identified as a barrier by 69%. While 79% of respondents identified this as a barrier to providing support after reunification.

As a result, the report recommends that Government, local authorities and the research community develop national guidance on reunification. They say this is needed to sit alongside other related guidance, including Working Together to Safeguard Children. They say this should include recommendations for evidence-based approaches to assessment, planning, support and monitoring of reunification.

They are also calling for better sharing of learning from existing research and for more investment in reunification practice evaluations. The effectiveness of existing approaches and interventions in England needs to be urgently evaluated, researchers said.

Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive of Foundations, which worked on the report said the research “highlights the importance of support to enable children to successfully return home from care, as well as the importance of understanding how to do this most effectively.”
“We are pleased to have contributed to this report which underscores the need to understand what works best in supporting successful reunification. A stronger focus on enabling children to return home safely can reduce the number of children in expensive care placements, and ultimately reduce the number of children in care, easing pressure on local authorities and the care system as a whole.
“We strongly support the call for the development of a ‘what works’ evidence base for England. Greater clarity about what works best could help develop a national vision for effective reunification practice. We also welcome the call for evidence to be made available to local authorities in a format that will support them in designing effective services for families. Together, these can ensure that councils are able to provide families with the support they need to enable children to return home.”

Commenting on the report, Nigel Minns, Chair of the ADCS Health Care and Additional Needs Policy Committee, said the focus of directors of children’s services is on “ensuring that children have the care and support they need.”

“Where it is the right thing for a child to return to their birth parents after a period of being in care, it is important, as the report notes, that this is carefully planned and the right support is in place to enable children and their families to remain together safely.”

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