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What Happened Next: Outcomes of children in care (WHN)

  • Research Project Team

    • Gerry Mulcahy
    • Julia Badger
    • Hannah Wright
    • Catherine Erskine


    The research was funded by the DoH as part of a project to improve decision making for children in care proceedings. 


  • Background

    Maltreatment is known to have serious long-term consequences for children’s development. Decision making for maltreated children in care proceedings is complex and very little is known about the outcomes for children after the court’s decision or about the reliability and possible value of recommendations made to courts.

  • Aims

    “What Happened Next” has two main aims:

    • To investigate the outcomes for maltreated children after care proceedings
    • To evaluate the extent to which experts’ recommendations made a positive contribution to children’s adaptation and well-being

    This study also aims to investigate the extent of children’s adaptation following judicial decisions made in proceedings, to explore what factors might be involved in changes in the children’s adaptation and wellbeing and to investigate the reliability of the expert placement and treatment recommendations made to the court.

  • Methodology

    All the children in the study had been referred to the Anna Freud Centre Family Assessment Service (FAS).

    114 children from 49 families were assessed longitudinally at two time points: 60 boys and 54 girls, age range 0.2 – 16.8 years at time 1.

    Every child had a time 1 (T¹) pre-proceedings assessment report for the Family Court written by members of the multi-disciplinary FAS team. The reports provide recommendations for the care and treatment of children and their parents.

    69 children and their carers participated in the follow up (T2) on average 2 years after the proceedings ended. The approach included interviews and observations,  and the following measures where this was possible:

    • Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)
    • Alabama Parenting Questionnaire (APQ)
    • Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI)
    • Friendship Quality Questionnaire (FQQ)

    A mixed-method design was used, with qualitative coding analyses for the (T¹) assessment report for Court and interview at T2 using the Comprehensive Child Adaptation Measure (CCAM) and the Measure of Infant Relationships and Adaptation (MIRA), and quantitative analyses for the SDQ, APQ, WASI and FQQ.

  • Results

    The study found that children’s wellbeing significantly improved by an average of +6.7 points between initial assessment (M = 68.13; SD = 9.86) and follow-up (M = 74.82; SD = 7.84), t (67) = -5.0, p < .001, d = 0.76). Children whose global adjustment scores were clinically concerning at the time of assessment hardly improved their scores (.44), compared to children whose global adjustment scores were within the normal range at the time of assessment.

    Interestingly, the majority (88%) of expert placement recommendations had been accepted and implemented. However less than 50% of the children and only 30% of parents received the support and treatment recommended in the experts reports in the proceedings. The implications for both policy and practice in working with children and their families during and after care proceedings are explored.