Authors Paul Bywaters, Geraldine Brady, Lisa Bunting, Brigid
Daniel, Gavin Davidson, Martin Elliot, Brid Featherstone,
Jade Hooper, Chantel Jones, Janice McGhee, Will Mason,
Kate Morris, Claire McCartan, Nughmana Mirza, Jonathan
Scourfield, Marina Shapira, Tim Sparks, Calum Webb
Published by Child Welfare Inequalities Project, March 2017
Link to briefing paper one
Academics from the universities of Coventry, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Stirling and Queen's University Belfast received Nuffield Foundation funding to study inequalities in the proportions of looked-after children, or those subject to child protection plans, in the four UK nations.
The project involved 24,000 looked-after children and 12,000 subject to child protection plans, representing 10 per cent of all such children across the UK in March 2015, when the study began. The children were living in 55 different local authority or health and social care trust areas.
The researchers found looked-after children and those on child protection plans in Northern Ireland and Wales were much more likely to be living in poorer neighbourhoods than those in England and Scotland. Children were over-represented in the 20 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods across the UK. However, in Northern Ireland, 70 per cent of children were living in the most deprived 40 per cent of neighbourhoods, whereas in England, 40 per cent were from the most deprived areas.
Within each country, researchers found a very strong association between the level of deprivation and the proportion of children who were in care or subject to child protection plans. Children in the most deprived 10 per cent of neighbourhoods in the UK are at least 10 times more likely to be in care than children in the least deprived 10 per cent. Across the UK, each step increase in deprivation increases a child's chances of being in care by about a third.
In England on average, each 10 per cent rise in deprivation was linked to a 30 per cent rise in looked-after children rates. Generally, the higher a local authority's level of deprivation overall, the higher the rate of looked-after children was likely to be, although researchers observed variations in rates between councils facing apparently similar levels of deprivation.
Overall, local authorities with higher average deprivation had more children in care than local authorities with lower average deprivation. But some relatively affluent areas have pockets of deprivation and deprived areas have pockets of affluence. Researchers compared smaller areas of equal deprivation, one within a local authority with low overall deprivation and one within a local authority with high deprivation. They found the area within the authority with lower overall deprivation had a greater rate of children in care - on average 50 per cent higher.
Researchers also found inequalities between different ethnic groups in England. Overall, children of mixed heritage were most likely to be looked-after and those from Asian backgrounds least likely. In the poorest neighbourhoods, where children in minority ethnic categories are more likely to live, looked-after children rates were highest among White and mixed heritage children.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
The report authors say a review of the relationship between demand and the distribution of expenditure between and within local authorities is overdue, especially given imminent changes in local government finance. Inspection processes should look at how children's services are working to minimise inequalities in demand for services and outcomes for children. Meanwhile, supporting families to survive and thrive should be a higher priority for children's services and inform education and training, and be embedded in processes such as assessment, case reviews and managerial oversight. Better data systems that include information about parents and their circumstances are urgently required to flag up inequalities in the demand for and supply of services and the consequences for children.
Child Welfare Inequalities: New Evidence, Further Questions, Paul Bywaters and others, Child & Family Social Work, May 2014. Earlier findings from the same study, examining the role of deprivation
Exploring Demand and Provision in English Child Protection Services, Rick Hood and others, British Journal of Social Work, May 2016. A study into how statutory agencies respond to fluctuations in demand
Exploring Inequities in Child Welfare and Child Protection Services: Explaining the ‘Inverse Intervention Law', Paul Bywaters and others, Children and Youth Services Review, October 2015. A new approach to explaining differences in intervention rates