Characterizing newborn and older infant entries into care in England between 2006 and 2014

Abstract

Background

The risk of entry to state care during infancy is increasing, both here in England and abroad, with most entering within a week of birth (‘newborns’). However, little is known about these infants or of their pathways through care over early childhood.

Objective

To characterize infant entries to care in England.

Participants and setting

All children in England who first entered care during infancy, between April 2006 and March 2014 (n = 42,000).

Methods

We compared sociodemographic and care characteristics for infants entering care over the study period by age at first entry (newborn: <1wks, older infant 1-51wks). Among those who entered before April 2010, we further characterized care over follow-up (i.e. 4 years from first entry) and employed latent class analysis to uncover any common pathways through care.

Results

Almost 40 % of infants first entered care as a newborn. Most infants first entered care under s 20 arrangements (i.e. out-of-court, 60 % of newborns vs 47 % of older infants). Among infants entering before April 2010, most were adopted over follow-up (60 % vs 37 %), though many were restored to parental care (20 % vs 32 %) or exited care to live with extended family (13 % vs 19 %). One in six infants (17.7 %) had particularly unstable care trajectories over early childhood, typified by three or more placements or failed reunification.

Conclusions

Evidence-based strengthening of pre-birth social work support is needed to improve preventive interventions before birth, to more effectively target infant placement into care. Linkages between child protection records and information on parents are needed to inform preventive strategies.