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Home again: reunification practice in England

Understanding reunification practice in the children’s social care system in England

Publication date January 2024

Reunification is the most common way for children in England to leave care.1 However, the number of children who later return to care suggests that local authorities in England are facing challenges in delivering effective reunification practice.

We commissioned this research alongside Action for Children to help us understand:

  • what guides reunification practice
  • how decisions are made before and after reunification
  • what support for reunification looks like
  • how reunification practice is monitored and improved.

Our research team conducted an England-wide online survey of local authorities, with 75 responses. Alongside this, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with senior staff from six local authorities to discuss their approach to reunification practice.

The report identifies a number of key findings to inform future research and policy development. It also makes recommendations to raise the profile of this policy area and to support local authorities to develop their reunification practice approaches.

Authors: Jessica Ford and Eavan McKay

References

The British Journal of Social Work (2022) Reunification and re-entry to care: an analysis of the national datasets for children looked after in England. The British Journal of Social Work
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Download the report (PDF)

Key findings

There is a lack of focus on improving reunification practice

Of the 75 local authorities who responded to our survey over half (56%) don’t have a reunification policy or strategy while only 19% have a standalone reunification team to coordinate reunifications.


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.


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.

Key recommendations

Our report makes the following recommendations to the Government, local authorities and the research community.

Develop national guidance on reunification

National guidance on reunification is needed to sit alongside other related guidance, including Working together to safeguard children.

This should include recommendations for evidence-based approaches to assessment, planning, support and monitoring of reunification.

Invest in reunification practice evaluations

The effectiveness of existing approaches and interventions in England needs to be urgently evaluated.

Share learning from existing research

An evidence summary should be shared with local authorities, highlighting learnings across key aspects of reunification practice.

 

Citation

Please cite as: Ford, J. and McKay, E. (2023) Home again: understanding reunification practice in the children’s social care system in England. London: NSPCC.