What helps to safely reduce the numbers in care?

Professor Sarah L. Brand
Research Centre Manager

20 November 2018

This month, the Centre has published findings on what works in social work to safely reduce the numbers in care, for which children or families, and under which circumstance. The report, Mapping the evidence about what works to safely reduce the number of children and young people in statutory care: a systematic scoping review sheds light on the gaps and clusters of published evidence in the social work literature.

Being a pragmatic person, there are two reasons I like using ‘Realist’ review methods such as the EMMIE approach used in this work. Firstly, we can get the best value from the published literature, looking both at the limited ‘quantitative’ evidence for what works in social work, as well as the more plentiful ‘qualitative’ evidence that can give us rich information about how people delivering and receiving an intervention think it does or does not work, which families it will and won’t work for, and what the circumstances are that the family needs to be in for it to work. Secondly, working in this way we can produce the kind of evidence summaries that are most meaningful for people who make decisions about social care, helping them to understand which interventions are more likely to work with different populations in different settings.

What have we learnt so far: gaps and clusters

So far, we have discovered nine types of social work intervention with evidence about whether and how they reduce numbers in care. In a scoping review we used systematic review methods to search the social work literature. We identified over 17,000 published scientific papers, of which 170 included evidence that will help us answer our questions. See the report to find out about the nine intervention types in social work we found.

What we are doing now: summaries for practice and policy

The scoping review told us where the evidence was and how much of it there was or was not. Our next step is understanding what the evidence we found in the scoping review tells us about what social work practice works to safely reduce the numbers in care, for which families and children, and under which circumstances.
Through a series of EMMIE reviews, one for each type of social work intervention that we found evidence for in our scoping review, we will produce the kind of evidence that is most meaningful to decision makers in social work. In evidence summaries, we will explain both what works in social work practice to reduce numbers in care safely, and, perhaps most importantly for decision makers, which populations, families, or children these types of social work practice will work for (and not), and in which circumstances (and not).


These summaries will be regularly appearing in the Centre’s new Evidence Store, launching in the new year.