University of Sheffield researchers contribute to a major new report on child social care

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Researchers from the University of Sheffield have contributed to a major new parliamentary report which has found child social care in the UK has become a postcode lottery.

Storing Up Trouble has been compiled by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) after it investigated the variations in social care thresholds around the UK.

The contribution from the University of Sheffield, led by Professor Kate Morris from the Department of Sociological Studies, explored the relationship between poverty and care, and protection interventions in children's lives.
Professor Morris led the case study strand of the research, and the Sheffield team included Dr Will Mason and Calum Webb.

Professor Morris is part of a seven-university consortium funded by Nuffield, carrying out a research project titled Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates.

In February, Professor Morris along with principal investigator Professor Paul Bywaters from Coventry University and Professor Brigid Featherstone from the University of Huddersfield were called to give evidence to the APPGC and their work is extensively cited in the new report.

Professor Bywaters will represent the project at the Westminster launch of the APPGC’s report. He will stress the vital importance of gathering data on parents as way of fully understanding the problems faced by families.

The project further concluded that austerity policies negatively affecting both families and social care services are pushing the child protection system into crisis, a crisis most acutely felt by disadvantaged families in the most deprived areas.

The project identified that remarkably little data is collected about the social and economic circumstances of children and families using social services.

 “It has been a privilege to work with colleagues on this study, and through the research to try to make a difference for children and their families by using the findings to influence policy and practice.

professor kate morris

MPs heard that as a result, local authorities and government do not know how many children are from single parent families, how old their parents are, whether their parents are in prison, or what kind of housing they have. It means that local authorities and social workers are unable to establish a full picture of the issues children and families are facing.

In the evidence to the APPG, the team noted the shift in the balance of services provided by children’s social care. In 2010, about half of children’s services budgets were spent on family support and prevention while the other half was spent on safeguarding work and children in care. But the balance has shifted so that just under a third is spent on family support/prevention while the remaining 71% goes on safeguarding/children in care.

Professors Bywaters, Morris and Featherstone argued that this reduction in preventive, support services for families has major implications for trust between parents and the state, and for the children involved.

In its report, the APPGC expressed concern that this shift away from preventative services is “pushing services down a slippery slope where the only option is to take more children into care”.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Professor Kate Morris said: “It has been a privilege to work with colleagues on this study, and through the research to try to make a difference for children and their families by using the findings to influence policy and practice.

“We were very pleased to be invited to give evidence to the APPG and delighted to see our work informing their analysis."

Dr Will Mason added: “Our case studies have identified a number of ways by which attention to poverty can be undermined, sidelined or obscured in social work practice.

“These issues were most obviously connected to the systemic pressures that social workers practiced within, including the rising rate of child protection work at the same time as diminishing resources for families in communities.

“Social workers often told us that the situation was untenable, and that they simply didn’t have the time or resources to support families in the ways that they would like to.”