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Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates: comparative studies in four UK countries

Briefing Paper 2: UK Four Country Quantitative Comparison

The project aimed to quantify and begin to understand inequalities in the proportions of children who are either subject to child protection plans or registers (CPP) or who are being ‘looked after’ in out of home care (LAC) in the four UK countries. This Briefing focuses on the quantitative data.

We found that in every country children in some places are much more likely to be looked after than children in other places. Within each LA or Trust and within each country these differences are systematically linked to how poor they and their families are. This is seen for children of different age groups, for boys as well as girls and for children on CPPs as well as for LAC. These findings parallel inequalities in health and education with long term consequences for health and wellbeing.

There is a strong social gradient in rates of intervention in all the countries. Each step increase in deprivation is accompanied by an increase in children’s chances of being a LAC or on a CPP. The gradient appears to be less steep in Northern Ireland than in the other countries and steeper in Wales than in England.

Some substantial differences were found in the proportions of children who were on CPPs or LAC in the four countries with different patterns also found in the ratio of CPP cases to LAC cases.

However, the overall inequalities in CPP and LAC rates between countries cannot be explained by deprivation levels as the most deprived country: Northern Ireland, has the lowest LAC rates and the second lowest CPP rates.

Substantial elements of the differences in overall LAC rates between Scotland, England and Wales can be explained by the differences in deprivation, demography, legal systems and what is counted in LAC statistics.

Data that would allow comparisons of expenditure on children’s services between the four countries are not currently available. It is impossible to say how expenditure may influence national intervention rates across the UK with any confidence.

Factors that may be relevant to the lower rates in NI include less inequality, stronger communities and a greater emphasis on community based family support services. However, these hypotheses remain to be tested.

Of course, this research is unable to determine whether outcomes for children were better or worse as a result of lower intervention rates.

Some broad policy directions are suggested: a policy objective of reducing children’s services inequalities, greater attention to the impact of socio-economic conditions on children’s life chances in policy, practice and training and better data, including data about family circumstances. A review of the costs and benefits of different levels and distribution of expenditure between the countries would be valuable but would depend on greater comparability in expenditure data.