It is widely accepted that children looked after have poorer educational and health outcomes than the general population. However, low numbers and the tendency to treat children looked after as a homogenous group is problematic not least because it overlooks differences based on individual needs and circumstances. To understand the reasons for these inequalities, a more nuanced and intersectional approach is required which focuses not just on children looked after, but all children receiving care and support from social services. In this way comparisons can also be made against those who do not reach the threshold for becoming looked after.

This project will utilise responses from the School Health Research Network’s survey of secondary age pupils from across Wales, linking these routinely collected education, health and social services data in SAIL Databank. What is particularly exciting about this research is that I will have access to data from three waves of the survey (where the respondents have given their consent for data linkage), allowing individual level changes over time to be explored as well as trends to be monitored. This will enable me to build on the work previously undertaken by researchers from DECIPHer, to gain insights into how those in care and on the edge of care might experience different types of outcomes relative to their peers. By linking to the various family court and social services datasets in SAIL Databank, there is also scope to drill down to look for differences for based on legal status and placement. 

Research Questions

  1. How can our understandings of the patterns of participation in risky behaviours amongst those receiving care and support from social services be enhanced by combining routine data with survey data? What are the strengths and limitations of this approach?
  2. In terms of protective factors, are there different patterns for these groups? Which factors might be amenable to intervention?
  3. Are there additional risks for children receiving care and support, and specifically children looked after, after controlling for socio-economic status and neighbourhood deprivation?

Throughout the study, advice will be sought from a diverse range of young people, including those with lived experience of social care services and those familiar with supporting public health improvement research. I will be able draw on the collective expertise of colleagues from both CASCADE and DECIPHer during my Fellowship.

For me, using data from Wales is particularly important when exploring how different children participate in behaviours such as smoking, drinking, drug use, truanting, exclusion, bullying and being bullied, sexting, sexual health, dating and relationship violence, and gambling since it will provide us with the knowledge to enable us to develop more targeted, timely interventions which reflect our aspirations here in Wales both now and for future generations.

Written by Dr Helen Hodges