What affects the chances of children’s successful reunification with their birth families from care?


This study is exploring the factors that are associated with children being successfully reunited with their families after a period in care.  This includes practice to support reunification, as well as factors associated with the child, their parents and their local area.  It is also looking at the extent to which changes in reunification account for the increases in numbers of children in care.

The numbers of children in local authority care in Wales rose steadily between 2002 and 2021, but the reasons why this happened are not clear.  However one possible reason may be that children who enter care now stay in care for longer. In 2002, 7.9% of children stayed in care until age 18, whereas in 2021 this had risen to 24.9%. One route for children to leave care is to return home to live with their birth family.  In 2002, 52.0% of children who left care did so to return to live with family. By 2021 this had dropped to just 34.5%. Reunification with families may therefore be a possible way to reduce the numbers of children in care. However, while returning to live with family could have positive outcomes for both child and family, it is imperative that children are not returned home to live with families who cannot cope or where they may experience further abuse. A proportion of children who return home from care later enter the care system again, and there can be instances where children end up oscillating in and out of care.  It is therefore crucial to ensure that where reunification happens, it happens in a way that means it can be successful.

This study aims to unpick these issues by identifying the role that changes in reunification over time and across local authorities have had in driving up the numbers of children in care. It is also looking at the factors associated with reunification and with reunification being successful, what practices are currently employed in Wales to support reunification and how those involved in it feel it can be supported.

Activities and Methods

 This is a mixed methods study, with three main parts.

  • An online survey will be used to gather information from social care practitioners about current practices in Wales and ways to support reunification.
  • Interviews of practitioners, parents and care-experienced young people will be held in two local authorities.  These will be used to identify the views of different stakeholders  about the barriers to reunification and how it can be successfully achieved and sustained.
  • Existing local authority administrative data about looked after children will be analysed. This will be used to investigate the role that changes in reunification have had in driving up the numbers of children in care in Wales and across local authorities.  It will also be linked to other datasets, including NHS data, the census and court data, to find out what characteristics of children and their parents are associated with successful reunification.


This Project is ongoing

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorNell Warner

Academics and Researchers

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