The care system, trauma and recovery

In March 2012 there were 67,000 children who were looked after by local authorities. Children in care are among the most vulnerable people in the land. They have generally had a poor start to life and subsequently often have serious further difficulties including: Poor outcomes in education, difficulties in making solid trusting relationships with others, and disproportionate involvement in the criminal justice system.

That is not to say that such poor outcomes are inevitable. There are many children in care who overcome their early disadvantages, and go on to live successful and happy lives. Unfortunately there are many who do not. We believe that an important reason why looked after children do often have poor outcomes, is that they have suffered unaddressed trauma.

Looked after children and trauma

The most common reason why children come into care is as a result of abuse or neglect. In 2012, 62% of children entered the care system for that reason. A further 14% entered because of “family dysfunction” and a further 9% because “the family was in acute stress”. These three reasons account for 85% of the care population, and these reasons are all likely to cause serious trauma for the child, and may lead to the poor outcomes mentioned above.

What can be done?

IRCT believes that the proper recognition of the role of trauma in the lives of looked after children will yield considerable benefits. What needs to happen to achieve this is:

  • There must be a general recognition of the role of trauma in the lives of looked after children. Central government must take a lead in promoting this recognition and understanding.
  • A formal objective of the care system should be to assist children recover from trauma. This should be set out in legislation.
  • Law and regulations should be amended to require that every child on entry to the care system is systematically assessed for the impact of trauma on their lives.
  • Policies and procedures of local authorities must recognise the key importance of trauma in the lives of looked after children and provide systematic measures to address that trauma.
  • In particular all staff significantly involved in the lives of looked after children (including child care social workers, foster carers and residential care workers) must be properly trained in relation to trauma.
  • Other key staff who must receive this training, include virtual school heads, independent reviewing officers, and designated teachers.
  • Every local authorities looked after children service must have quick and ready access to expert psychological advice in relation to the provision of measures to assist traumatised children recover.

We believe that if the role of trauma in the lives of looked after children is properly recognised and systematically addressed there will be considerable benefits for those children and will help them to go on to lead happy successful lives.