The Children's Chances Cohort

The 2017/18 cohort of Crook Public Service Fellows are working on the theme of 'Children's Chances'

Isabelle Trowler

Department for Education

ITSince qualifying as a social worker in 1996 from the London School of Economics, Isabelle has worked within the voluntary, statutory and private sectors both in education and social care settings, in a variety of practice and senior leadership roles. She is well known for co-designing a new model of delivering child and family social work, Reclaiming Social Work, which has had an enduring influence on the children's social care practice system across the UK and internationally.

Isabelle took up the role as the Government's first Chief Social Worker for England (Children & Families) in 2013. Since then she has been instrumental in the introduction of national practice standards and post qualification accreditation for child and family social work, the development of nationwide teaching partnerships and the creation of a new professional regulator, Social Work England.

She has also played a central part in the ‎introduction of a new What Works Centre for Children's Social Care, the national improvement programme "Partners in Practice", and the roll out of the Department for Education's Innovation Programme.

Isabelle's project

Children’s Social Care Interventions - working with Sue White, Jadwiga Leigh, Danielle Matthews and Calum Webb

This study will seek to explore what the key root causes are for the overall increase in children being subject to care proceedings over the last 5 years.

Key stakeholders have identified possible reasons for this below:

  • Increasing levels of poverty & deprivation for families & communities
  • Decrease in public spending on “early intervention”
  • More complex social need
  • Identifying previously unmet need (CSE; neglect; understanding the impact of domestic & emotional abuse)
  • Rescue & risk averse decision making supported by organisational culture
  • Little effective direct work with families

This project will specifically consider the role of early intervention and the design of practise systems in relation to these increased care proceedings.

A mixed methods research design will be adopted to address the following main questions

  • To what extent is the increase in care proceedings the result of rescue oriented & risk averse decision making culture?
  • What is the impact of organizational and individual decision-making and social workers’ skills on the nature, quantity and quality of work taking place with families at the point when real dangers emerge and/or at the point of crisis.

The project will involve a literature review which will identify effective support which prevents child abuse/ neglect and family breakdown and illustrate reasons for the increased proceedings.

A practice review of recent local authority care proceedings cases will be undertaken to address questions around decision making processes, considerations of deprivation and poverty, levels of service and cuts to services in the local authority, and the quality of support available to families.

Sara Gowan

Sheffield Young Carers

saraSara has worked in youth and community work for over 25 years, at a local and national level. Her current role is Managing Director of Sheffield Young Carers Project. Sara previously managed Home-Start Sheffield and has been Deputy Manager at Children and Young People’s Empowerment Project. Her project development, strategic and managerial experience is in the children and young people’s sector. Sara's commitment to the principles of community development and young people’s participation underlies all her work.

Sara's project

Life chances for Young Carers - working with Andrea Wigfield, Caroline Hart, Permala Sehmar and Julie Askew

This study will explore how we improve the health, well-being and life chances of young carers. There are over 700,000 young carers (under 18) in the UK with an estimated 7,300 young carers in Sheffield. Statistics on young carers are notoriously hard to collate as many remain unidentified by services, including schools.

Young carers provide a range of emotional and physical care for loved ones; which can affect their lives in numerous ways. For example, young carers have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE level - the equivalent to nine grades lower overall than their peers and 45% of young adult carers reported that they have mental health problems. On the positive side some evidence suggests that caring is seen to be a rewarding role by many young carers and can have positive emotional and psychological benefits.

If we want to know how to improve young carers’ life chances then we need to ask challenging and difficult questions including; should we rely upon children to provide care in our society? What does caring mean for young people that do it? Is their caring by choice? This raises some key moral and ethical questions but also impacts on direct service delivery. If we don’t ask these questions then we will continue to provide a ‘sticking plaster service’ that helps children and young people to accept their caring rather than letting them have the choice including to right to say, “I do not want to care but my family needs support to ensure that I don’t have to do it”.

This project aims to develop insight and guidelines as to what is appropriate/inappropriate caring (given The Care Act 2014 and Children and Families Act 2014 refer to young people undertaking ‘inappropriate caring’) which will have influence on young carers/carers services across UK, local authority commissioners of young carer’s services and Funders and have an effect on the systems that identify young carers and their families.

The project more broadly hopes to start addressing the moral question at the heart of supporting young carers – should children and young people be providing substantial levels of support to their families?

Sumi Rabindrakumar 


SumiSumi is a researcher with a background in mixed methods research and evaluation. She works in the policy team at Gingerbread, where she leads research on welfare, employment, childcare, child maintenance and family structure.

Sumi is currently working on projects looking at single parent family finances under austerity, benefit sanctions policy, and the effects of recent child maintenance reforms. Prior to this, she worked for the children’s charity Coram, focusing particularly on adoption and family support services, and in the Audit Commission’s service evaluation team.

Sumi's project

Modern Families - working with Nathan Hughes, Majella Kilkey, Winona Shaw and Alvaro Martinez-Perez

The current policy and public/media rhetoric around single parent families is too often negative, particularly in terms of the outcomes for both single parents themselves and children living in a single parent household.

Based on our current knowledge, the academic evidence base on family structure also seems relative old, based typically on the British Household Panel Survey or cohort studies.

With these two issues in mind, and bearing in mind Gingerbread’s upcoming centenary, this seems to be an opportune time to update the evidence base on how family structure affects family outcomes – including children’s life chances, undertake research which supports ‘myth-busting’ about single parent families – what they look like, how they live and what shapes their life outcomes and identify policy recommendations based on current data, particularly around where families – including children – best need support.

The project will ask the following questions:

• What does the modern single parent family in the UK look like?
• How does family structure change over time in the UK? What is the propensity for living in /experiencing a single parent family?
• Can we describe ‘types’ of single parent families? What do they look like, and what are there different trajectories?
• Can we use ‘types’ of single parent families to explain children’s outcomes?

The project hopes to influence the general public and media by producing short outputs and infographics based on our analysis to tackle myths and promote less-known facts about modern families (particularly single parent families). It also hopes to have an impact on single parents by sharing new research/stats on single parent families, with a more inclusive tone and outlook than typically showcased publicly (building on Gingerbread’s existing work to tackle stigma associated with single parenthood).

The project’s goal is to influence policymakers – particularly departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions, who have expressed interest in social justice policy and looking at relationship support and family conflict across family types; it is envisaged that this new data will build on and inform existing work to support families over time.

Alice Field 

Young Futures

aliceAlice is trained as a Child and Adolescent Psychodynamic Therapist and has been in front-line work with young people in and leaving care since 2009.

In 2015 she was hired to project manage the creation of an innovative new Therapeutic Residential Home for young women leaving local authority care in South East London. The building of Yvonne House was completed in 2016 and has been operating as a residential placement for just over a year.  She works closely and consults with commissioners in 9 London local authorities, social workers, multi-disciplinary mental health teams, existing residential placements, key-workers, police, CSE teams, health services and other statutory and voluntary services as well as care-experienced young people. Yvonne House exists to try and support the residents to address (and professionals to understand) the underlying reasons for the poor outcomes well-documented for young people leaving care in the UK.

Alice and the team at Yvonne House are committed to bringing together research into best-practice to work with young people who have experienced disturbed attachment and cycles of inter-generational trauma. They also aim to support staff and the wider professional network to think together about how best to support care-leavers to reach practical, emotional and social independence. Alice's research will inquire into the differences in provision from borough to borough, multi-disciplinary communication break-down and the gaps between research recommendations and policy.

Alice's project

Young Women Leaving Care - working with Robin Sen, Will Mason, Katie Ellis and Kate Morris

The study will seek to identify, describe and understand the experience of young women leaving the care of social services who enter therapeutic residential services between the ages of 16 to 18, and the network of professionals tasked with their support. It will focus on the impact of the systemic pressure inherent in the fact that care and support services taper and end at 18.

Entry to this type of residential service at this age is from a specific population group who often arrive with multiple and complex needs, traumatic histories, an inevitable mistrust of caring professionals and a suspicious relationship to the concept of ‘help and support’.

The pathway for care leavers at this age is that they will move to ‘independence’ by the age of 18, when they will transition out of care and the myriad of services open to them will dramatically reduce or, in most cases, close completely. As a result, an expectation is placed on these young people to achieve an extraordinary level of transformation in a disproportionately small amount of time. As the age of 18 approaches, ‘professional panic’ mounts, in the knowledge that the services available are soon to be revoked. This study seeks to understand the impact of this systemic pressure on a very specific population group, and how this is felt by the professionals supporting them.

This study hopes to identify, describe and understand a highly complex problem in the lives of professionals and service users, holding a mirror up to identify strains in the system.

The team will identify literature (UK and international) that could offer examples of strengths based models that have worked elsewhere. They will also undertake empirical work with female care leavers and professionals including social workers, mental health workers, police, adult services and people working in residential and secure care. The aim is to make recommendations for policy on a local and national scale and to inform future research in this area.