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Cardiff researchers join study into UK’s child safeguarding systems

22 January 2015

Why are children from poor neighbourhoods more likely to be subject to a child protection intervention than those living in better off areas? And is deprivation the primary cause?

Cardiff University researchers are joining a new research programme led by Coventry University and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The project will compare disparities in child safeguarding in the four home nations, exploring potential reasons for the inequalities in rates across the UK.

Jonathan Scourfield, Professor of Social Work at Cardiff said: "Wales has especially high rates of children in care and we hope this research will tell us more about why that is and how inequalities in child welfare can be reduced."

The project, which involves six partner UK universities including Cardiff, will begin in April and expects to report in 2017. The Cardiff research will be based in CASCADE – the University's Children's Social Care Research and Development Centre.

Since 2008 there has been an 86% increase in the number of children being investigated over child protection concerns in England. And the number of children spending time in care each year has increased by 10,000 since 2010.

The increase in pressure on child protection services has coincided with the coalition government's austerity measures which have been implemented since 2010 and are set to continue. In this context of increasing demand and spending cuts affecting family support services, it is particularly important to understand what is driving child welfare inequalities within the UK, and the research aims to shed light on this.

The project will be led by Professor of Social Work, Paul Bywaters, from Coventry University. He said: "Almost 5 children in a 1000 in Wales and Northern Ireland are on a child protection plan or register, but fewer than 4 in 1000 children in England and fewer than 3 in Scotland. Is this a postcode lottery or the result of deprivation, demography, policy or practice? How do we judge which country's safeguarding system is working best? This is what this project is aiming to find out. Our findings could lead to fundamental changes in policy and practice for children's services across UK and internationally."

Prior to this research grant, Prof Bywaters and his team at Coventry University have led pilot studies which found inequalities in the proportion of children on child protection plans or in care reflect two key factors: deprivation and ethnicity.

Teresa Williams, Director of Social Research and Policy at the Nuffield Foundation said: "The Nuffield-funded pilot study revealed a clear link between deprivation and child protection interventions within the same local authority. It also showed that local authorities covering more affluent areas are more likely to intervene than those covering less affluent areas. But without knowing more about these inequalities we can't do anything to address them. This ambitious, UK-wide project will use both existing and new data to provide much-needed evidence on the underlying need for child protection services, rates of intervention and local area deprivation."

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