Skip to main content

Children in need census 2017 to 2018: Guide for local authorities – version 1.1

The children in need census is the only national source of data on children referred to children’s social care services and those that are the subject of child protection plans. These are a vulnerable group of children for whom both central and local government have a responsibility. Reviews such as Professor Munro’s review of child protection have highlighted the importance of good quality performance information, including nationally collected data as part of helping to map children’s journeys, and understand the impact of services on their lives. In addition, the state is required to collect information on vulnerable children to fulfil its international obligations under the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The children in need census is a child-level data collection. This means the department can track and analyse the journeys of individual children and explore how these vary according to their characteristics and needs. This information can help local authorities when planning and commissioning services and also central government when developing and monitoring its policies. It helps us to answer questions such as are younger children more likely to become the subject of a child protection plan?The department can add value to these data by linking them to other data sources such as the national pupil database (NPD) and the children looked after data collection. Linking to the children looked after data allows, for example, the analysis of the proportion of looked after children who are disabled and analysis of the original reasons for the child being identified as being in need. Over time linking to the NPD allows the analysis of the effectiveness of services on pupil outcomes, which will lead to better commissioning of services in the future. It will allow the department to identify attainment of children in need and the progression between key stages following the receipt of services. It will also allow exploration of other relationships with absence, exclusions and characteristics (such as free school meal (FSM) eligibility, looked after and special educational need (SEN) status) and to build a more complete local and national picture of the children in need population.

Benefits of the children in need census to local authorities

Data collected at a national level is of value to local authorities and others as part of a wider system of improvement and accountability. Collecting and holding information centrally as with the children in need census data enables valuable local comparisons to be made that would otherwise be very difficult without the structure of a centrally defined data collection. It enables local authorities to have a more robust and richer data source when linked to other central data collections.

A fully completed census allows local authorities to better understand variations in social care activity and practice and benchmark themselves against national averages and their peers. Local authorities can draw from this nationally held data and use comparative information from other local authorities to evaluate the effectiveness of their local services to drive commissioning, as well as to improve working practices and improve the outcomes of some their most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. Furthermore, the children in need census can encourage local authorities to construct robust systems for collecting information on and monitoring disabled children and other children in need. This will help local authorities ensure that they meet their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.

Information from the children in need census when used alongside local authorities own locally held information, such as that described within the Children’s Safeguarding Performance Information Framework, can be used to help understand and provide context for discussion and debate about the effectiveness of services and an understanding of what is working and where there may be problems to resolve.