I was interested to hear Professor Judy Sebba, director of Oxford University’s Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education, speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme earlier this week.

The Nuffield Foundation have funded a study comparing the performance of children who are left living with troubled families and children who are placed into foster care. The resounding conclusion of the researchers is that children in foster care make better educational progress than vulnerable children who remain with troubled families. Details of the research have also ben published on the BBC news website.

This was a comprehensive study which looked at 640,000 teenagers in England. The results were surprising and will help undermine one of the defences we often face to cases we bring on behalf of vulnerable children let down by the system.

I head a department that specialises in abuse claims and in particular claims on behalf of children who suffer physical, emotional and sexual abuse during childhood which could be prevented by Social Services intervention.

In the vast majority of cases I deal with Social Services accept that they are at fault and should have intervened to either protect or remove the children from the abusive situation in which they find themselves. One of the defences we regularly face, however, is that children in the care system generally under perform and that by removing them their educational prospects would be diminished in any event.

This survey seems to support our argument on behalf of the children such that early intervention and a stable foster placement could significantly enhance that child’s prospects.

Not only are the children being removed from a situation which will undoubtedly be disrupting their education but they are also given some stability which in turn will lead to better GCSE results.

The report’s findings should not really be a surprise. Some of the children we act for find themselves in appalling situations. They may be suffering physical or sexual abuse. They are suffering neglect. They will often have poor attendance records at school. When they do attend school they face bullying and victimisation by other children because of their appearance. They are often in clothes that are too small or inappropriate for the time of year. They often have untreated head lice and their clothes are not washed regularly. They are simply not cared for and as a result they tend to stand out from more fortunate children and become isolated and bullied. It is hardly a shock that their educational performance suffers when their attendance at school is not regular and when they have difficulty “fitting in” when they do attend.

The Rees Centre’s research therefore offers even more support to the argument that Social Services should be pro-active and remove a child from a troubled environment as quickly as possible to maximise that child’s potential and minimise long term harm.

As a department we specialise in bringing claims on behalf of children and adults who have suffered abuse particularly where Social Services could have intervened to prevent that abuse. If you wish to discuss any aspect arising from this please do not hesitate to contact us.