Non-parental care in childhood and health up to 30 years later: ONS Longitudinal Study 1971–2011

Background

Children who spend time in non-parental care report worse health later in life on average, but less is known about differences by type of care. We examined whether self-rated health of adults who had been in non-parental care up to 30 years later varied by type of care.

Methods

We used longitudinal data from the office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study. Participants were aged <18 and never-married at baseline of each census year from 1971 to 2001. Separately for each follow-up period (10, 20 and 30 years later), multi-level logistic regression was used to compare self-rated health outcomes by different care types.

Results

For combined census years, sample sizes were 157 896 dependent children with 10 years of follow-up, 166 844 with 20 years of follow-up and 173 801 with 30 years of follow-up. For all follow-up cohorts, longitudinal study members who had been in care in childhood, had higher odds of rating their health as ‘not good’ vs. ‘good’; with highest odds for residential care. For example, 10-year follow-up odds ratios were 3.5 (95% confidence interval: 2.2–5.6) for residential care, 2.1 (1.7–2.5) for relative households and 2.6 (2.1–3.3) for non-relative households, compared with parental households after adjustment for childhood demographics. Associations were weakest for 10-year, and strongest for 20-year, follow-up. Additional adjustment for childhood social circumstances reduced, but did not eliminate, associations.

Conclusion

Decades after children and young people are placed in care, they are still more likely to report worse health than children who grew up in a parental household.

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