Improving the chances of successful reunification for children who return from care: a rapid evidence review

Rick Hood, Simon Abbott, David Nilsson, Mary Baginsky, Claire Dimond

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review

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Reunification is the term used when children return home to their parents after a period in out-of-home care. Improving outcomes for children in care is a key social policy goal and although it is the most common way for children to leave care, rates of subsequent re-entry to care are high compared to other exit routes such as adoption and special guardianship (Selwyn et al., 2015;McGrath-Lone et al., 2017). UK research into reunification has examined aspects of reunification practice as well as the factors associated with recurrence of abuse or children’s re-entry to care after they return home (Murphy and Fairclough, 2014; Biehal
et al., 2015; Carlson et al., 2020; Hood et al., 2021). Similar evidence has been gathered in international reviews and studies (Cordero, 2004; Esposito et al., 2014; Gypen et al., 2017; Sanmartin et al., 2020). Practice guidance is also a useful source of evidence about how agencies and social workers can support
reunification through their existing provision (Wilkins and Farmer, 2015). However, there is a need to understand more about the specialist interventions that can improve the chances of successful reunification. As part of work undertaken to support the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, What Works for Children’s Social Care commissioned a rapid evidence review into this area to capture a growing evidence base and inform the recommendations of the Review.
The aim of the review was to contribute to the knowledge base on how to improve the chances of a successful reunification for children who return home from care. The objectives were to answer the following research questions:
1. What specialist services and interventions have been found to improve the outcomes of reunification?
2. What types of support (for children, parents, families, networks) included
in these services help to improve the outcomes of reunification?
The population of interest in this review was children (aged 0-17) who return home to their parents following an episode of out-of-home care. In the UK, some children are placed at home under a care order and are included in the administrative data on reunification, whereas in the United States reunification
refers to out-of-home care only. However, reunification does not include care leavers who return home after ‘ageing out’ of care.
The intervention of interest was specialist services designed to support reunification and improve its chances of success. The context for the intervention was social care services for children who were looked after by the state between 2000 and 2021.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherWhat Works Centre for Children's Social Care
Commissioning bodyWhat Works for Children’s Social Care
Number of pages76
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2022


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