Sibling birth order, use of statutory measures and patterns of placement for children in public care: implications for international child protection systems and research

Gillian Henderson, Christine Jones, Ruth Woods

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    3 Citations (Scopus)
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    Public care of abused and neglected children is one important element of statutory intervention which aims to address the major global challenge of protecting children from abuse and neglect. Where a child is part of a sibling group, this introduces particular challenges with regard to meeting the needs of all those affected. This paper presents findings from one of the first studies examining birth order effects on statutory intervention patterns for looked-after siblings. The experiences and outcomes of children were compared depending on maternal birth order at the time of data collection. We found strong evidence that the length of time from first referral of a child deemed at risk to first statutory intervention is greater for first-born than for last-born children and first-born children are significantly older than last-born children when they are first placed on statutory measures. The study concludes that first-born siblings may be particularly vulnerable to delayed statutory intervention and the cumulative effects of harm and certain routes to permanence may be less available to them. We argue for increased focus within international child welfare policy and practice on timely and intensive assessment of first-born children, where risk of maltreatment is identified, in order to address potential inequalities of access to protection. A focus on risk introduced by systemic factors within legal and welfare systems in addition to risk introduced by perpetrators of abuse is needed. We also argue for greater research attention to, and more precise measurement of, birth order as a variable in studies of the looked-after population.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)321-328
    Number of pages8
    JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
    Early online date3 Oct 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2017


    • siblings
    • birth order
    • children's hearings system
    • permanence
    • looked-after children
    • social work
    • child protection

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