7 February 2018

Professor Kate Morris to give evidence in Parliament on inequalities in child welfare intervention rates

Professor Kate Morris, on behalf of the Sheffield researchers involved in the Child Welfare and Inequalities project, will be giving evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children today along with Professor Paul Bywaters and Professor Brid Featherstone (University of Huddersfield).

An view of the Houses of Parliament in London from across the River Thames

Speaking to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Wednesday 7 February 2018, Kate and her colleagues will present the work of the Child Welfare Inequalities Project (CWIP) to detail the relationship of deprivation, policy and other factors to inequalities in key child welfare intervention rates in the UK's four countries.

The CWIP, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, revealed significant inequalities in child welfare across the UK, with children in the poorest areas ten times more likely than those in the least deprived to become involved in the child protection system. Kate led a team of researchers from the University of Sheffield, including Dr Will Mason and Calum Webb, PhD candidate in the Department of Sociological Studies, on the case study work for the CWIP.

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 to time or resources to support families in the ways that they would like to.

Dr. Will Mason

Lecturer in Applied Social Sciences

To date, there has been a huge response to the research from the children’s services sector, including Ofsted acknowledgement of the role of deprivation in the effectiveness of local authority children's services and an invitation to contribute to an international meeting this spring that is part of building an international network to support research and practice change.

It will be an exciting opportunity to discuss the research and we’re very pleased to be invited to speak to the APPG. The research raises critical questions for policy makers and social workers and we hope we can support changes in policy and practice. The research from the case studies shows that whilst there are local variations in practice, they’re not sufficient to explain the unequal rates of intervention and this is a critical finding because it means we must pay attention to wider systematic matters of poverty and deprivation.

Professor Kate Morris

Professor of Social Work

The effects of austerity

As part of the CWIP research, Calum Webb has been working with Professor Paul Bywaters from the University of Huddersfield to look at children services expenditure. In a new article - Austerity, rationing and inequity: trends in children’s and young peoples’ services expenditure in England between 2010 and 2015 - the authors call for a major change in the way that children’s services departments collect information, arguing that they should pay full attention to the socio-economic conditions of families.

The research also highlights how spending has shifted away from areas that provide preventative family support and early intervention services in order to maintain or increase spending on services for safeguarding, or to meet costs associated with children in care.

Calum explained: “What we found was that more deprived local authorities usually had higher spending per child in order to address multiple complex needs. This meant that once austerity measures were introduced it was these local authorities that saw significantly larger reductions in spending per child. The most deprived 20 per cent of local authorities have cut their spending by a quarter, whereas the least deprived have cut by only four or five per cent.

“We also found that, once you look into where the money is being spent, there has been a clear pattern in where the cuts have been made. In 2010-11, on average for a local authority 46 per cent of their spending was on largely preventative services like children’s centres and family support. This had decreased to around 34 per cent by 2014-15, with the reduced funding and increased demand inevitably more resources have shifted towards services for looked after children."

The key recommendations from the team are to improve the detail and consistency of data about the £10 billion Children’s and Young Peoples’ services spending and the children and families that rely on such services; to acknowledge and engage with the evidence that poverty and spending matters when it comes to the quality of these services; and to better engage social workers with the economic context of family life.

The expenditure research was published in Local Government Studies this week. An article co-authored by Professor Morris and Dr Mason with CWIP colleagues examining how social workers address issues of poverty was published by Child and Family Social Work last month.