Children’s social care is a postcode lottery, major new report shows

  • New research cited in parliamentary report reveals how austerity policies have pushed social care for children into crisis across the UK
  • Social care crisis is most acutely felt by disadvantage families in the most deprived areas in England and Wales
  • Report cites University of Sheffield study which highlights the relationship between poverty, care and protection interventions in children’s lives

A boy sitting with his head down against a brick wall

A major new report highlighting how social care has become a postcode lottery for children across the UK has been published following research conducted by the University of Sheffield.

The Sheffield study, led by Professor Kate Morris from the University’s Department of Sociological Studies, explores the relationship between poverty, care and protection interventions in children's lives.

Conducted as part of a collaboration between researchers at seven universities and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the project found that austerity policies negatively affecting both families and social care services are pushing the UK’s 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.

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. This means that local authorities and social workers are unable to establish a full picture of the issues children and families are facing, according to the study.

Findings from the project have been extensively cited in a new report published today (11 July 2018) by the All Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) after it investigated the variations in social care thresholds for children throughout the UK.

In February, Professor Kate Morris along with principal investigator Professor Paul Bywaters from the University of Coventry and Professor Brigid Featherstone from the University of Huddersfield were called to give evidence to the APPGC.

In the evidence given, 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. However the balance has shifted so that just under a third is spent on family support and prevention while the remaining 71 per cent goes on safeguarding and 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 of the report, 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, who was also part of the research team at the University of Sheffield, 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.”

The APPGC report – Storing up Trouble – is available via:

The University of Sheffield research - Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates – is available via:

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

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Sean Barton
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852