Dates: March 2020 – March 2022
Research Team: Dr Birgit Larsson, Professor Elsbeth Neil (University of East Anglia), Dr Marcello Morciano and Dr Yiu-Shing Lau (University of Manchester)
Funder: Action for Children

Returning home to family or ‘reunification’ remains the most common way for a child to achieve permanence in England (DfE, 2015-2021). Despite this, reunification has received less focus in policy and research than other forms of permanence such as adoption or special guardianship. There have, in particular, been gaps in knowledge about the profiles, pathways and outcomes of reunified children nationally. This study, alongside others (Hood et al; 2021; Larsson et al, 2021; Neil et al, 2020) addresses some of these gaps through analysis of administrative data on children in need (CiN) and children looked after (CLA) collected by local authorities and submitted to the Department for Education annually. 

The study aimed to analyse national administrative data on looked after children in order to:

  • Create the first national picture of who reunified children are, and to
  • Explore factors related to the stability of their reunifications and their educational outcomes at key stage 4.

Key recommendations

  • Children’s returns home require thorough planning. The study demonstrated that children with unplanned returns had higher rates of reunification instability. While unplanned returns cannot be eliminated, engaging in planning with children and families even after an unplanned return has occurred is recommended. 
  • The rate of children returning to care is higher for reunified children than for other permanency routes such as adoption or special guardianship. New and improved support is needed for families of reunified children in order to ensure children and young people’s needs are being met. 
  • The study showed that reunified children’s educational outcomes at key stage 4 are worse than for children in the general population and no better than the educational outcomes of looked after children. In order to improve the educational outcomes of reunified children, they should receive the same educational support and entitlements as those received by looked after children. 


Read the Research Briefing