In the mid-1990s there were, in England alone, approximately 50,000 children and young people 'looked after', excluding those disabled children receiving respite care (Department of Health 1996: 5). Moreover, the case for wholesale reform of the public care system was powerful and persuasive, particularly if account was taken of local authorities' historical and contemporary shortcomings with regard to the children for whom they had responsibility (Hendrick 1994; Utting 1997). The Waterhouse inquiry on abuse in North Wales children's homes (Waterhouse 2000; see also Thompson 1998; Pritchard 1998) and a number of other inquiries focused on the harm caused to children in institutional and substitute family environments (Staordshire County Council 1991; Westcott 1991; Lyon 1997). In addition, research highlighted: the inadequate health provision available for 'looked after' children (Butler and Payne 1997); their poor level of educational achievement (Jackson 1988±9; Heath et al. 1989; Aldgate et al. 1993; Fletcher-Campbell 1998); the bullying taking place in 'care' settings (Colton 1989) and the lack of independent visitors (Utting 1997: 111±12); the high pregnancy rates of young women 'looked after' (Corlyn and McGuire 1998); the specific problems encountered by black children and young people (Chambers 1998); the unacceptably high number of placement moves (Sone 1997a); the inadequacy of preparation for 'leaving care' and poor after-care support (Biehal et al. 1995). Clearly, there should have been profound concern about the well-being of 'looked after' children and young people, both in terms of their day-to-day experiences and their longer-term opportunities. However, the academics associated with the Looking after Children: Assessing Outcomes in Child Care project, mindful of this situation, boldly asserted that their new system would contribute to the final shedding of the 'painfully persistent legacy of minimum standards and minimum objectives 19