Project dates: 2015-2018

Research team: Dr Beth Neil, Professor Gillian Schofield. Other members of the ESRC business and local government data research centre will contribute their expertise, particularly in relation to methodology and data linkage.

Funder: Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)


In 2013, the University of Essex, the University of East Anglia, the University of Kent and London School of Economics were awarded funding for five years to set up the ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre.  The overall aim of the Centre is to help local authorities and companies to harness the power of their data. One of the themes that was established as part of the bid was ‘Supporting vulnerable people’ and CRCF is leading the work under this theme.  We will be undertaking a demonstration project using local government data from children’s services to examine the pathways of vulnerable children.  

Nationally there are concerns about the numbers of children in care, and variations in these figures between local authorities. Some previous research has studied the pathways of children entering the care system, but the impact of local authority input with families before this threshold is reached needs more understanding. Families may be offered “early help” services aimed at resolving problems before children reach the thresholds of being either “in need” or “looked after”. It is important to understand whether early intervention can divert families from more intensive services, and whether this is the best outcome for children. It is therefore useful to know more about the subsequent outcomes for children who have some involvement from social services, but who do not go on to become looked after long term. By linking social care data with other data held on families (for example health and education data) the success or otherwise of early interventions can be considered.


To use the administrative data available from local authority children’s services to gain some understanding of the pathways complete cohorts of children take through different levels of children’s services interventions. This project also hopes to take advantage of the opportunities offered by data linkage, exploring the characteristics and outcomes for children across services. For example we hope to link the data about children in need and in care with information about these children within the education system. This linking of data will be important not just for the research, but for policy and practice.

The project will begin in partnership with Norfolk Social Services. It will use Children in Need census data, the SSDA903 data on looked after children, and data on children’s educational outcomes to map the characteristics, pathways and outcomes for children in contact with children’s social care. The project will be piloted with Norfolk County Council, with a view to replicating the methodology in other areas.

Findings from the project are anticipated in 2018.

This project has the potential to benefit participating local authorities by providing them with a detailed analysis of their service users and the impact of their interventions. This can inform future service planning and delivery, enhancing outcomes for children and families. The project will also benefit other local authorities through the demonstration of data analytics.

Key findings from the research will be published in a range of formats addressing the key audiences (academic articles and policy/practitioner articles).