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Providing care for children who cannot be cared for by their birth parents, either through their actions or inactions, is a major challenge for societies at a global level, and raises significant issues within the UK context.

A key problem is knowing what is best for children in instances where return to birth parents is not possible.

A range of solutions have been developed, including long-term foster care, long-term kinship care (with birth relatives), some form of legal Guardianship with former foster and kinship carers, and adoption.

Knowing which option is best for a particular child, in any given situation, requires great professional expertise and access to contemporary research findings.

Unfortunately, the research base in relation to comparison studies of outcomes from different long-term placements for children in care is scarce, particularly longitudinal research.


The Care Pathways and Outcomes study is a longitudinal prospective study following a population of children (n=374) who were under the age of five and in care in Northern Ireland on the 31st March 2000.

The aim is to follow the placements that these children progress through, and to assess their health and wellbeing across a range of psychosocial domains, and that of their parents and carers, through to adulthood, within and between a range of different placement types, i.e. long-term foster care, long-term kinship care, Residence Order, adoption and return to birth parents.


Four waves of the study have been completed to date, and findings published (McSherry, 2006; McSherry et al., 2008; 2010; 2013; 2016; 2018; 2019), with the fourth wave currently ongoing, examining the lives of the young people and their parents and carers, aged between 18 and 23 years old.

The research findings are influencing long-term placement and planning policy for young children in care locally, nationally and internationally, in addition to our understand of the different support needs required by children and families on different pathways, and at various developmental stages.

Academic Collaborators

  • Prof. Nina Biehal (University of York)
  • Dr. Carme Montserrat Boada (University of Girona)
  • Prof. Christian Connell (Penn State University)
  • Prof. Mark Courtney (University of Chicago)
  • Prof. Elizabeth Fernandez (University of New South Wales)
  • Prof. Robbie Gilligan (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Dr. Lars Kristofferson (NOVA Centre, Norway)
  • Prof. Beth Neil (University of East Anglia)
  • Prof. Bruce Perry (Child Trauma Academy, Texas; University of Chicago)
  • Professor John Pinkerton (Queen’s University Belfast)
  • Prof. Sir Michael Rutter (King’s College London)
  • Prof. Mike Stein (University of York)
  • Prof. Panos Vostanis (University of Leicester)

Non-academic Collaborators

  • Adoption UK
  • Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
  • Health and Social Care Board
  • Northern Health and Social Care Trust
  • Southern Health and Social Care Trust
  • South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
  • NI Department for the Economy
  • NI Department of Education
  • NI Department of Health
  • Public Health Agency
  • The Fostering Network
  • The Simon Community
  • Western Health and Social Care Trust