Children and young people in residential care in 1971 and 1981

Howard Meltzer, Office for National Statistics

[Project number 20099]

The data will be used to enhance our understanding of the effects of residential care during the first 18 years of life on later outcomes, with particular reference to health-related outcomes and mortality.

This project is an exploratory study of the long-term influence of being in residential care during childhood.

Currently, about 1 in 200 children are looked after by local authorities. Nowadays only 20% of these children are placed in residential care homes, the majority are placed with foster families. However, "children's homes" were the preferred location of children who could not be cared for by their parents in the 1970s and 1980s. The main reason for these placements was abuse or neglect of the children or in some cases the children had problems that could not be managed by the parents.

What happens to these children is of key interest. Two recent ONS surveys have shown that nearly half of all children in local authority care have a clinically recognisable mental disorder (Meltzer et al, 2003) and that about a quarter of remand prisoners had been in local authority care (Singleton and Meltzer, 1998).

How did the children in residential care in the 1970s and 1980s fare in later life and how do they differ from other children at that time? The LS offers a wonderful opportunity to follow up a sample of these children - particularly focussing on the health questions in later censuses and mortality rates. Many of these children tend to have quite severe substance abuse problems at an early age.

The LS also allows the investigation of variables which are known to be associated with health outcomes - marital status, educational qualifications, occupation and economic status.

It is appreciated that many of these children may be lost to follow up as they are the least likely group to participate in data collection exercises. Looking at relative loss to follow up compared with other children will be of interest in itself.

The LS will contribute to the aims of the study by allowing us to sample people were in residential care during childhood in 1971 and/or 1981. The LS will also allow comparing these people's socio-economic and educational outcomes in adulthood, i.e., in 1991 and 2001, with the outcomes of people who were not in residential care during childhood.


Meltzer H, Gatward R, Corbin T, Goodman R and Ford T (2003) The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in England, London: TSO

Singleton N. and Meltzer H. (Winter 1998) Mental disorders in our Prisons, Social Trends Quarterly

Top of page