Abstract: (Withdrawn) Why Are There Such Large Variations in Rates of Children in Care in Wales, UK? Results from a Survey of Workers (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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560P (Withdrawn) Why Are There Such Large Variations in Rates of Children in Care in Wales, UK? Results from a Survey of Workers

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sophie Wood, Research Associate, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Donald Forrester, PhD, Professor, Cardiff University
Background and Purpose: Children looked after by the state in Wales include those in residential, foster, or kinship care, or living at home with their parents on care orders, hereby referred to as children in care. The rate of children in care in Wales, UK, is one of the highest in the world and has increased considerably in the past two decades. While many factors may be driving these increases, there is considerable variation between local authorities, who are responsible for children’s services in a local area. This study’s main objective is to explore driving factors between increasing or reducing care rates in varying local authorities. The research questions are: 1) What observable factors that affect care rates are noted by sector workers? 2) What are the similarities and differences in the views, values or practices of workers and leaders in local authorities with increasing care rates compared to those with decreasing care rates?

Methods: Results are presented from a survey completed by approximately 18% of the children’s social care workers in Wales (n=792). The online survey was circulated to all local authorities in November 2020. Fifty-one closed Likert scale questions and three open ended questions covered three key areas. These were: 1) views on the factors influencing the increase in care rates; 2) values relating to birth families and out-of-home care; and 3) attitudes and risk culture in practice. Descriptive statistics and a thematic analysis of the qualitative data were conducted. To simplify the data for further analyses, factor analysis was used, logistic regression tested differences in factors between respondents in local authorities with increasing care rates (n=413) to those with decreasing rates (n=70) over five years (2016-2020).

Results: Statistically significant differences were found relating to the values and the practices of workers. In local authorities with increasing care rates, workers: had weaker pro-family values, i.e. they were less “Against removing a child at risk from home” (OR 0.51, 95% CI 0.30- 0.85); were more likely to say they would remove a child than to try to work with the family in case vignettes (OR 2.08, 95% CI 1.22- 3.56); had less confidence in the decisions made in their local authority e.g. keeping the right children at home or in care (OR 0.40, 95% CI 0.23-0.71); and were less positive about the support for practice e.g. appropriate training and supervision (OR 0.51, 95% CI 0.31-0.84).

Conclusions and Implications: The findings indicate that variations in local authority values and practices may influence the rate of children in care. All local authorities are faced with increasing pressures, yet some with significant social problems seem able to avoid the large numbers of children in care found in other authorities. The challenge faced in Wales and internationality, is how local authorities can learn from one another to ensure consistency and quality in services. Future research is needed to better understand the differences in local authority culture and how best to achieve changes in values and practices in these organizations.