Courts, care proceedings and outcomes uncertainty: the challenges of achieving and assessing ‘good outcomes’ for children after child protection proceedings

Jonathan Dickens, Judith Masson, Ludivine Garside, Julie Young, Kay Bader

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The professed aim of any social welfare or legal intervention in family life is often to bring about ‘better outcomes for the children’. But there is considerable ambiguity about ‘outcomes’, and the term is far too often used in far too simplistic a way. This paper draws on empirical research into the outcomes of care proceedings for a randomly selected sample of 616 children in England and Wales, about half starting proceedings in 2009-10, and the others in 2014-15. The paper considers the challenges of achieving and assessing ‘good outcomes’ for the children. Outcomes are complex and fluid for all children, whatever the court order. One has to assess the progress of the children in the light of their individual needs and in the context of ‘normal’ child development; and in terms of the legal provisions and policy expectations. A core paradox is that some of the most uncertain outcomes are for children who remain with or return to their parents; yet law and policy require that first consideration is given to this option. Greater transparency about the uncertainty of outcomes is a necessary step towards better understanding the risks and potential benefits of care proceedings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-581
Number of pages8
JournalChild & Family Social Work
Issue number4
Early online date1 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Outcomes in child welfare intervention; courts; children in care system; kinship care; family re-unification

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