A Linking survey and administrative data to enhance understandings of risky behaviours and potential protective factors in children receiving social care: A feasibility study.

This project will provide a more nuanced and intersectional understanding of young people’s participation in a range of risky behaviours, with a particular emphasis on children receiving care and support from social services.  


Every two years the School Health Research Network, led by DECIPHer surveys more than 100,000 11-16 year olds across Wales. The responses to the Student Health and Wellbeing survey are used to monitor adolescent health behaviours to increase understanding and inform policy in Wales. The survey includes questions on a range of different behaviours including some which could be considered to be ‘risky’ such as smoking, drinking, drug use, truanting, exclusion, bullying and being bullied, sexting, sexual health, dating and relationship violence, and gambling. This project will be focused on these and the factors which mitigate these by linking to the young people’s responses to their education, health and social services records in SAIL Databank.  

It is accepted that children looked after have poorer educational and health outcomes than the general population. However, low numbers and tendency to treat children looked after as a homogenous group is problematic. 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. 

The project will consider the following 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? 
  1. In terms of protective factors, are there different patterns for these groups? Which factors might be amenable to intervention? 
  1. Are there additional risks for children receiving care and support, and specifically children looked after, after controlling for socio-economic status and neighbourhood deprivation? 

Activities and Methods

The study will explore the benefits that can be derived from linking survey data to routine administrative data to provide an accurate picture of the prevalence and patterns of participation in risky behaviours amongst young people receiving social care support relative to their peers, and the role played by moderating factors. From a methodological perspective, this proposed research will: 

  • Determine the reliability of the self-reported measures of exclusion and truanting, and that previously used to identify children looked after in foster, residential or kinship care 
  • Monitor changes in the responses of those who engage in risky behaviours over time and enhance understandings of the role of played by moderating factors 
  • Explore the utility of applying a combination of data linkage techniques and Bayesian approaches to enhance our understandings of complex issues in social care. 

This data linkage project will take place over 5 years meaning that there will be three waves of the survey data available for the research.  The initial priority will be to utilise social services and family justice records to define the cohort of interest. Once established, responses will be linked to the individual’s education and health records, and the various risky behaviours and associated protective factors explored. The order in which these are explored will be determined through a prioritization exercise with a diverse range of young people. Undertaking both cross-sectional and longitudinal linkage will enable behaviours and moderators to be explored over time and/or developmentally to establish if there are differences amongst the various groups. 


None Yet.

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorDr Helen Hodges
Related SchoolsSchool of Social Sciences
Related partnersDECIPher / The School Health Research Network / SAIL Databank 
FundersHealth and Care Research Wales Social Care Fellowship