Children in households with substance misuse, domestic violence or mental health problems: Who is at risk of entering care?

A study looking at the relationship between risk factors in adults in a household and the later entry of children into local authority care. 


A number of parental problems have previously been associated with children entering care. These include mental health problems, substance misuse and learning disabilities. However there are many things about the relationship between these issues in parents and children’s entry into care that are not known. For example, do these factors have the same effect on the likelihood of care if they occur in mothers or fathers or if they occur in areas of high or low deprivation? How does their impact vary in different local authorities? We also don’t know how the characteristics of the child affect the impact of these factors. This study was carried out to explore these issues.

Activities and Methods 

The study used routinely collected data from social services in Wales and linked it to data from health and education to look at the households children were living in before they entered care. It looked at the risk factors in the adults living in those households as well as child characteristics. A range of risk factors were considered including substance misuse, mental health problems, violence at home, learning disabilities and different types of neurodivergence. These were compared to the rest of the population. In particular the study explored:

  • What impact different types of risk factors among the adults in a household had on the likelihood of children entering care
  • How the impact of different risk factors varied according to whether they occur in mothers, or fathers and in single parent households
  • How the number of risks in a household affected the likelihood of care, and whether or not having an adult with no risks in the household is a protective factor
  • How much the risks accounted for different rates of care among children in different levels of deprivation, and who are in receipt of free school meals,
  • Whether the risks had the same impact in households in different areas of deprivation, or where children are in receipt of free school meals.
  • How the impact of these risks varied according to the child’s characteristics, including their age, gender and ethnicity
  • How much difference there was between local authorities in the likelihood of care when these risks are taken into account
  • Whether the impact of these risks had changed between 2008 and 2020 and whether this could account for any of the changes in the numbers of children entering care over this period.

Following this quantitative analysis focus groups were held in some local authorities where the rates of children entering care were lower than expected to discuss the reasons why.


Parental Risk Factors and Children Entering Care:
A Non-Technical Briefing on the Quantitative Findings

Watch Nell Warner present some of the findings of this project:


This project is funded by Health Care Research Wales and is being carried out at Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE), Cardiff University in partnership with the Centre for Trials Research Cardiff University, the Adolescent Mental Health Data Platform at Swansea University and the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University. 

For more information please contact: Dr. Nell Warner, Research Associate CASCADE,

Tel: +44 (0)2920 876910


spark | sparc , Cardiff University Social Science Park, Cardiff University. 

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorDr. Nell Warner

Academic Staff

Prof. Jonathan Scourfield
Dr. Rebecca Cannings-John
Prof. Ann John
Prof. Karen Broadhurst
Related SchoolsSchool of Social Sciences – Cardiff University
Centre for Trials Research, School of Medicine – Cardiff University
Related partnersAdolescent Mental Health Data Platform – SAIL databank in Swansea University
Centre for Child and Family Justice Research – Lancaster University
FundersHealth and Care Research Wales