University of York researchers are launching a new multi-disciplinary project to examine what works best for abused or neglected children - going into care or staying at home with support.
The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will find out whether going into care can improve their wellbeing and life chances or whether it instead compounds the effects of children's previous experiences of abuse or neglect.
Running from April 2014 to March 2016, the study will use the Born in Bradford survey, an NHS initiative and one of the biggest and most important medical research studies undertaken in the UK. The survey has been tracking the lives of 13,500 babies and their families since 2007 and will provide valuable information on children's family circumstances before they entered care.
The study involves researchers from the University of York's Department of Social Policy and Social Work, Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU), Institute for Effective Education (IEE), Department of Health Sciences, the Hull York Medical School (HYMS) and the Department of Psychology, University of Leicester.
It aims to provide:
• important new information about the strengths and weaknesses of the care system in compensating maltreated children for their early life disadvantages
• evidence on the circumstances in which outcomes may be positive if children are supported at home or, alternatively, when admission to care is likely to be a better alternative
• key messages for policymakers and practitioners concerning assessment and intervention with maltreated and looked after children.
Professor Nina Biehal, from York's Department of Social Policy and Social Work, is leading the project. She said: "Many people are concerned about poor outcomes for children in care, but research shows that for many children care actually improves their wellbeing.
"We do not yet know enough about whether abused and neglected children who go into care do better or worse when compared to similar children who are supported at home, rather than to all children in the wider population. We also need to understand more about how and when taking abused or neglected children into care might be the best way to help them and when it might be safe, and better, to support them at home in their families This study aims to find out."
The researchers will link information from the Born in Bradford survey to two other datasets which record children known to have experienced abuse or neglect, and children who are admitted to care in Bradford.
Professor Kate Pickett, from York's Department of Health Sciences, who is also on the Born in Bradford Executive Committee, said: "This new study is the latest example of how the Born in Bradford study provides a platform for important new research on the wellbeing of children that will benefit families in Bradford and beyond."
Using surveys, assessment tools and interviews, the researchers will gather information on children's general health and development, emotional, behavioural or attachment difficulties (if any), language development and early reading skills, their overall well-being and whether they have been re-abused. This will allow the research team to analyse the relative effects on their development and well-being of their family backgrounds, their experience of abuse and neglect and of being in care.