Looking after Children in the UK: Convergence or Divergence?

Janice McGhee, Lisa Bunting, Claire Mccartan, Martin Elliott, Paul Bywaters, Brigid Featherstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Comparative child welfare administrative data from each of the four jurisdictions of the UK (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland (NI) and Wales) were analysed over a ten-year period to examine rates and patterns of public care. Scotland followed by Wales has the highest rates of children in out-of-home care, followed by England and NI with similar lower proportions. Despite strong links between deprivation and higher chances of becoming looked after, this national variation appears more a reflection of differing legal and operational practice than higher levels of need for public care. Notwithstanding differing devolution settlements, a convergence in the direction of policy across the UK towards early intervention, extensive use of kinship care and adoption as an exit route from public care is apparent. This convergence is most apparent in the increased entry of very young children to public care in Scotland, NI and Wales. The lack of any systematic collection of data by governments on the social and economic conditions of children reflects a missed opportunity to examine separately their influence on rates of children in public care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1176-1198
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number5
Early online date17 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


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