REPORT DETAILS

Understanding service provision for children in need in England

A research study exploring the support offered to children and their families who are subject to a Child in Need plan, across four local authorities.

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May 2022

Summary

This report presents the findings of a research study which explored the support offered to children and their families who have a Child in Need plan across four local authorities. Little is known about the needs of children who are on Child in Need plans and this research aimed to add to the existing knowledge base. 

The findings highlighted that there was inconsistency across local authorities in how Child in Need plans were used, thresholds for involvement and interventions, and the range of services offered to families in need of support. In addition, the findings reaffirm that there is still much that is unknown about the characteristics and experiences of those on Child in Need plans.

Objectives

The aim of this report was to form an initial understanding about the support offered to families and children who are subject to a Child in Need plan. The objectives were to answer the following research questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of children and families of children who have Child in Need plans?
  2. What are the reasons children and young people have Child in Need plans?
  3. What support and activities are families of children who have Child in Need plans receiving? 
  4. Does the support provided match the needs of families of children who have Child in Need plans?

How we went about it

Working closely with four local authorities, this research study triangulated between a range of information sources.

We carried out a manual review of 82 case files of children with a Child in Need plan and supplemented this with in-depth case discussions with practitioners. We held seven focus groups with 29 social work staff, along with 11 interviews with parents of children with a Child in Need plan. Case files and families included in the review were limited to those selected by LAs who agreed for their file to be included. In addition, we analysed administrative data about children with a Child in Need plan from all four LAs.

To inform the study, we also held four roundtables with attendees from a wider range of LA’s (separate from included in the study). 

Key findings

Child in Need plans 

  • There was considerable variation in the use of and the reasons why children were placed on Child in Need plans, and subsequently the length and types of interventions provided
  • A range of factors, such as parental engagement with children’s services, family support and historical concerns influenced the decision-making to recommend a Child in Need plan
  • Whilst collaboration with parents was heavily emphasised in social worker’s accounts of their work, parents often did not feel involved in the development of Child in Need plans, and were not always aware of goals they were working towards
  • There is little understanding of the characteristics of children who have a Child in Need plan.

Support offered to families

  • A wide range of support services and interventions were provided by social workers, family support workers and specialist teams within LAs, in addition to external services to which families were referred
  • A large proportion of the social worker’s role was providing advice and guidance to parents, along with co-ordinating multi agency support 
  • Direct work with parents and children was variable in relation to frequency, approach taken, use of resources and its recording in case files
  • There are gaps in service provision despite the wide range of internal and external services offered to children and families. In particular, this involves difficulties accessing timely specialist support, particularly for child and parent mental health.

Implications

This report adds to the knowledge base on the characteristics and support offered to children and their families who are subject to a Child in Need plan. It highlights the need for increased consistency in use of Child in Need plans and service provisions available across LAs to ensure that children and families are receiving the right support for their needs. This includes greater collaboration with families when creating Child in Need plans, ensuring that practitioners have sufficient time to undertake direct work with families, and improved access to external support provided by multi-agency partners. Also, improved data collection and recording about children and their families is needed to establish a greater understanding of the experiences of being on a Child in Need plan.

However, this study only presents a snapshot of the experiences of children and families on Child in Need plans in four local authorities, and so, these findings are not generalisable to the wider Child in Need population. The report highlights three areas for further research in order to gain a greater understanding of this particular group of children:

  • Evaluate whether support provided to children with a Child in Need plan is effective in meeting the needs of children and families 
  • Describe and explain regional variation in the use of Child in Need plans 
  • Capture the views and experiences of children, young people and families who have a Child in Need plan.

Next steps

WWCSC was commissioned to carry out this research by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care to inform the Review’s understanding of the area and to support the formulation of recommendations.