Exploring placement stability for children in out-of-home care in England: a sequence analysis of longitudinal administrative data

Louise Mc Grath-Lone, Katie Harron, Lorraine Dearden, Ruth Gilbert - Child Abuse & Neglect



To monitor stability of care, the proportion of children in England who have experienced three or more placements in the preceding 12-month period is published in government statistics. However, these annual snapshots cannot capture the complexity and heterogeneity of children’s longitudinal care histories.


To describe the stability of care histories from birth to age 18 for children in England using a national administrative social care dataset, the Children Looked After return (CLA).

Participants and setting

We analyzed CLA data for a large, representative sample of children born between 1992 and 1994 (N = 16,000).


Using sequence analysis methods, we identified distinct patterns of stability, based on the number, duration, and timing of care placements throughout childhood.


Although care histories were varied, six distinct patterns of stability were evident including; adolescent 1st entries (17.6%), long-term complex care (13.1%) and early intervention (6.9%). Overall, most children (58.4%) had a care history that we classified as shorter term care with an average of 276 days and 2.48 placements in care throughout childhood. Few children (4.0%) had a care history that could be described as long-term stable care.


Longitudinal analyses of administrative data can refine our understanding of how out-of-home care is used as a social care intervention. Sequence analysis is a particularly useful tool for exploring heterogeneous and complex care histories. Considering out-of-home care histories from a life course perspective over the entire childhood period could enable service providers to better understand and address the needs of looked after children.