Research and analysis

Maltreated children in the looked-after system: a comparison of outcomes for those who go home and those who do not

This project focuses on the consequences of decisions to reunify children who had entered the looked-after system for abuse or neglect. It compares the progress and outcomes of a sample of maltreated children who either went home or remained in the looked-after system.


Maltreated Children In The Looked After System: A Comparison Of Outcomes For Those Who Go Home And Those Who Do Not

Request an accessible format.
If you use assistive technology (such as a screen reader) and need a version of this document in a more accessible format, please email Please tell us what format you need. It will help us if you say what assistive technology you use.


This study is one of a series of projects jointly commissioned by the former Department for Children Schools and Families and Department of Health to strengthen the evidence base on recognition, effective interventions and inter-agency working in child abuse and neglect.

Around six in ten children in the looked after system have entered for reasons of abuse or neglect. Many of these children subsequently go home and, while some reunifications are successful, many others are not. This study examined the care pathways of these children and, in particular, compared outcomes for those who remain looked after away from home and those who return home. The decision to separate children from their families and, subsequently, to return them home again or provide them with a long-term alternative placement are amongst the most serious taken by children’s social care services.

Such decisions involve considerable uncertainty. Some children who become looked after do not settle, they may continuously yearn to be with their families and do not do very well. However, the risks of harm associated with reunifying maltreated children may also be high, including the potential for further maltreatment or breakdown. This study set out to strengthen the evidence base about the longer-term consequences of these decisions to reunify or not reunify maltreated children.


  • Introduction
  • Key findings
  • Background
  • Aims
  • Methodology
  • Findings
  • Additional information

Updates to this page

Published 26 August 2010

Sign up for emails or print this page