Imagine for a moment that you are a child again. But now imagine that as a result of problems at home, perhaps your parents have difficulties with drink or drugs, you are taken into care. This care can give children who have suffered abuse or neglect a safe, supportive environment that protects them from harm. It can enable them to thrive and is a critical part of our child protection system.
However, it may be a surprise to many people to learn that the most common outcome for children who are taken into care is actually to return home again. But research shows that for too many of these children returning home doesn't provide the safety and stability that children deserve.
Around half of children who come into care because of abuse or neglect suffer further harm when they go home. Studies have shown that two-thirds (64%) of children who returned home experience at least one failed return and a third moved in and out of care twice or more. This revolving door of care is damaging for children and has a significant cost for struggling local authorities.
This should be a national scandal. But for too long returning home from care has been the focus of little national or local policy development, with insufficient attention on improving practice. It's absolutely right that we should look to keep children together with their families. So we need to ensure that the help in in place to make this work for children.
Today (29 Nov), NSPCC is submitting its response to the Government's consultation on improving support for children returning home from care. In it, the charity is calling for an entitlement to support for all families when children return home from care.
For far too long there has been a cliff edge at the point where children leave care - at the point where support is most needed to keep a family together it is frequently non-existent. The current legal framework and local authority practice mean that children returning home from care actually get less support, despite the increase in their needs and the risks they face.
For example, in one study around half of children who returned home from care went back to a household where there were serious drug and alcohol problems - but only 5% of those families actually got any access to treatment.
The Children and Families Bill, currently going through the Lords, provides a critical opportunity to put this right and give these children and young people a better chance in life.
The NSPCC has put forward recommendations for creating an entitlement an assessment of the child and family's needs and a "personalised budget" of support, for as long as is necessary to safeguard and promote the child's welfare.
We know budgets are being cut and that councils have to make tough choices, but not providing this support is a false economy. It costs local authorities far more if these children need to be removed from families over and over again.
The NSPCC is playing its part. We have developed a service called Taking Care that aims to support looked after children back with their families for good. It is the only such project in the UK and one of few in the world.
However, we can't do this on our own. We will all be fighting a losing battle unless the Government listens to what children and young people in care have told us, and makes the changes that will give children in care the best chance at finding their way safely back home.