Child welfare inequalities

04 November 2019

Calum WebbCalum Webb

A new interactive application aims to help local authorities engage with research about inequalities in child welfare.

How much do you know about the area that you practice in and the neighbourhoods you go to regularly? What is happening or has been happening in your local authority or region compared to elsewhere in the country? How effectively can you describe the social and economic circumstances of the families you work with? 

Research by social work academics found that practitioners can discuss the impact of structural inequalities and the impact of poverty and material deprivation on children and families’ outcomes, but struggled to have a local knowledge that informed their plans. Moreover, they often have a strong sense of local changes in resources, numbers of children in care or in need of protection, but rarely have access to detailed data about the areas they work in and how they compare to others.

Not having access to this knowledge can have real consequences for children and families. Practitioners may be so overwhelmed with their daily workload that they become unaware of or unable to reflect on many of these inequalities or how their services may end up perpetuating, rather than remedying, injustices. They may be unaware that children in the poorest neighbourhoods are ten times more likely to enter care than those in the least poor neighbourhoods; or that children with Black African and Caribbean heritage are three times more likely to be on a child protection plan or in out-of-home care compared to children with Asian heritage. These contextual factors shape relationships with communities and the kind of support children’s social services are able to offer. It can be increasingly easy to lose sight of them without something to prompt our reflection.

What tools can we give social workers and families to enable them track the changes to the resources they have to work with, or are intervening far more with certain groups than others? For many there can still be an imposing distance to cover between research and practice and a need for even more bespoke resources. This is especially true whenever statistics are involved. Getting your head around pages of tables and regression equations is a slog, and often research papers are talking about a hypothetical ‘average’ trend, which we’re usually less curious about than we are about the place we live and work.

The Child Welfare Inequalities Project (CWIP) App is a modest attempt to shorten that imposing distance and allow those interested to see how the claims made in research play out in their own region. Does your local authority really fit the pattern of the ‘average’ local authority spoken about in the research, or is it an outlier? How does it compare to neighbouring local authorities, or comparator authorities?

The application brings together data from several sources over multiple years and presents it in a visual, interactive way. It is driven by curiosity and accessibility. The hope is that it will help practitioners become data informed in order to make stronger arguments for changes, help ensure plans consider the children and families social and economic circumstances and embed social structures and contexts in the approaches of local authorities by putting the evidence at the fingertips of practitioners, managers, directors, and families. 

Matthew Purves, Children and Families Social Worker at Stockport Family first used the CWIP app at a Research in Practice event and has since been using an early access version to inform his practice:

‘I've found the app particularly handy when assessing environmental factors, especially as it visualises the data in an engaging manner. The mapping tool displays variations across my borough and this has helped me to better understand and respond to the difficult circumstances of families in different localities. I think both practitioners and leaders will find this app extremely useful.’

Our hope is that we can continue to support and improve the accessibility of these kinds of tools that help practitioners think about the local communities and contexts that are in the background of their daily work with individuals and families. We’re looking forward to hearing about how practitioners and families use the CWIP app and the ways we could look at improving and extending it in future (links to provide feedback are on the app’s homepage).

About the author

Calum Webb is a sociologist at the University of Sheffield specialising in advanced quantitative methods, Data Science, and the definitions, measurement, and impact of poverty, inequality, and social metrics in the UK. His recent research explores how nonmaterial dimensions of poverty can be integrated into poverty metrics and the relationship between poverty, income inequality, ethnicity, and child welfare interventions. He works at the intersection of Sociology, Social Policy, and Social Work.

He is interested in creating meaningful social impact from research by improving accessibility to research, data and statistics using techniques from Data Science (such as in the CWIP App www.cwip-app.co.uk) and in co-producing practice and policy recommendations and tools with professional organisations and experts by lived experience.

Related Research in Pracitce resources

Calum led the Child Welfare Inequalities app Webinar with Research in Practice to demonstrate the use of the CWIP App and some specific examples of how practitioners or local authorities may wish to use it. Delegates at this year’s Link Officers’ Annual Meeting will be able to try the app and Calum will be present to answer any questions and give guidance on its use.

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