A new programme of research will explore how health is considered in social care assessments of children in need in England, including those who are disabled. A central focus will be how children and young people experience the assessments process.
The research, beginning later this year, follows a major, five-year investment by Wellcome in a collaboration between University of Cambridge, University of Kent and the National Children’s Bureau in conjunction with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and the British Association of Social Workers.
This year is the thirtieth anniversary of The Children Act of 1989, which contained the most significant legislative changes for children’s services since the 1930s and 1940s.
But services for children in need in England, including those who are disabled, face a ‘perfect storm’ of rising demand and substantially reduced budgets.
Storing up Trouble, published in 2018 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and the National Children's Bureau, highlighted these challenges and found a "postcode lottery" in the level of support offered by children’s services.
Studies have shown that one in five children in England born in 2009/10 were referred to children's services before the age of five; and there has been a 60% increase in unfounded child protection investigations in England since 2011. Yet funding for local authority children and young people’s services fell by 29% between 2010/11 and 2017/18.
The new research programme, called Living Assessment, will investigate the roots causes of the problems facing children’s services, and how health and social services might work together more effectively in supporting children and their families.
The study will draw on three key sources:
- Interviews with people who were instrumental in developing the relevant 1989 and 1991 legislation, individuals who have conducted assessments of the health and development of ‘children in need’, and children and young people who have themselves experienced these assessments.
- Analysis of health and social care records from a quarter of a million participants, exploring the movement of families through different services over time.
- Examination of newly-available archive sources to uncover the changing relationship between health and welfare in assessments of children in need since The Children Act was brought into law in 1989.
“It may seem obvious, but if you really want to know how it feels to be assessed for social care support then you should ask children themselves, including care leavers, disabled children and young people and all of those who have experienced assessments by social workers. We’re therefore thrilled to be partnering with University of Cambridge and University of Kent to co-produce this ground-breaking research. Those with lived experience will be at the heart of the project.” – Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau.
The programme includes an ambitious programme of activity to ensure engagement with civil servants, parliamentarians, policy makers and senior practitioners, in collaboration with MPs and Peers from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children. The team aim to allow the experiences of those affected to be heard at the highest levels in government and to enable evidence-based changes to improve the lives of those children and families involved in assessments.
 Bilson, A., & Munro, E. H. (2019). Adoption and child protection trends for children aged under five in England: Increasing investigations and hidden separation of children from their parents. Children and Youth Services Review, 96, 204-211.
 Action for Children, NCB, NSPCC, The Children’s Society, Barnardo’s, (2019) Children and young people’s services: Funding and spending 2010/11 to 2017/18 https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/childrens-servic...