New research compares inequalities in UK's child safeguarding systems

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27 Jan 2015 14:00:15.973
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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?

Researchers at The University of Nottingham are involved in a major new research project to study inequalities in child welfare systems across the UK.

Nottingham is among six universities which are partners in the new Centre for Communities and Social Justice (CJS), led by Coventry University and funded with £550,000 from the Nuffield Foundation.
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Leading Nottingham’s research contribution is Professor Kate Morris of the University’s Centre for Social Work based in the School of Sociology and Social Policy.

Professor Morris said: “This research is going to make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable families and their children, it will inform social work practices and the work of all those concerned with the wellbeing of children in need of care and protection. The University of Nottingham is delighted to be part of this ground breaking study and to be working with such a strong research team.”

Increasing demand vs spending cuts

The project will compare disparities in child safeguarding in England with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales where child welfare systems and intervention rates differ. It will then explore potential reasons for the inequalities in rates across the UK.

Since 2008 there has been an 86 per cent 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 five children in a 1,000 in Wales and Northern Ireland are on a child protection plan or register, but fewer than four in 1,000 children in England and fewer than three 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.”

Ambitious project

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.”

The two year project, led by Professor Paul Bywaters and Dr Geraldine Brady of the new research Centre for Communities and Social Justice, will involve teams in six partner universities, the Open University, The University of Nottingham, University of Stirling, University of Edinburgh, Queen’s University Belfast, and Cardiff University. 

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers, in the top 10 for student experience according to the Times Higher Education and winner of ‘Research Project of the Year’ at the THE Awards 2014. It is ranked in the world’s top one per cent of universities by the QS World University Rankings, and 8th in the UK by research power according to REF 2014.

The University of Nottingham in Malaysia (UNMC) is holding events throughout 2015 to celebrate 15 years as a pioneer of transnational education. Based in Semenyih, UMNC was established as the UK's first overseas campus in Malaysia and one of the first world-wide.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Kate Morris in the School Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 951 5239,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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