Loughborough University
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Loughborough University

Centre for Child and Family Research

News and events

Improving Children's Social Care:
26 January 2016



Improving children’s social care

The aims of the study

A feasibility study is being conducted to focus on fundamental questions about the definition of a 'good' service for children in need and ways of accurately assessing whether that standard has been reached. Evidence on these questions will pave the way for a fuller investigation of exactly how these standards have been achieved, sustained or eluded in a sample of local authorities that reflect different journeys between success and failure.

The ultimate aim of the research is to answer four key questions in relation to children’s social care in England:

Why this research is needed

Local authorities’ ability to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need has been the subject of considerable debate over recent years. Every time a child is seriously abused or neglected, the spotlight falls on the services that are deemed to have failed them, followed by assertions that lessons have been learned and radical changes made to bring about improvement. Yet research, Serious Case Reviews and government inquiries repeatedly identify the same weaknesses in practice, such as a failure to share information, poor quality assessments and drift. Similarly, there have been long-standing concerns about the quality of local authority 'corporate parenting' for looked after children and the widening of the gap in outcomes between these children and their peers.

Some authorities appear to have become trapped in an apparent cycle of failure. Following an Ofsted inspection that raises concern about their ability to keep children safe, there may be a period of intense activity: bringing in new managers and creating new systems and processes, but without any sustained improvement. These experiences suggest that understanding why things go wrong and what are the key elements of success does not necessarily translate into the ability to implement them effectively and improve practice. They also highlight the importance of being able to accurately assess the quality of children's services. The current inspection programme is resulting in falling Ofsted ratings but the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives are questioning whether this approach is either accurate or helpful.


What the research will involve

The first stage of the investigation is a feasibility study that will report in spring 2016 and will include:

Depending on the outcomes of the feasibility study, we then hope to conduct a main investigation involving in-depth and comprehensive case studies of a sample of local authorities in autumn 2016.

This study is funded by the Nuffield Foundation[1] and conducted by a team of experts in children’s services. The research co-directors are Matt Barnard (Anna Freud Centre) and Ivana La Valle (University of East London) and the team also includes: Di Hart (Children’s Services Consultant); Lisa Holmes and Rebecca Brown (Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University); and Chloe Gill (NSPCC).

For more information about the study contact Ivana La Valle at ivanalavalle@outlook.com or Matt Barnard  at matt.barnard@annafreud.org.


[1] The Nuffield Foundation is currently funding the first stage of the investigation, once this phase is completed  a proposal will be submitted to the Foundation for main stage of the study.



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