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Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates

Comparative Studies in the Fur UK Countries


Nuffield Foundation



Project Team

Paul Bywaters, Huddersfield University – PI
Geraldine Brady, Nottingham Trent University
Lisa Bunting, Queen’s University, Belfast
Gavin Davidson, Queen’s University, Belfast
Martin Elliott, Cardiff University
Brid Featherstone, University of Huddersfield
Will Mason, Sheffield University
Claire McCartan, Queen’s University
Kate Morris, Sheffield University
Jonathan Scourfield, Cardiff University
Calum Webb, Sheffield University

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Project aim

The aim of this project, led by Professor Paul Bywaters and undertaken with the Universities of Coventry, Cardiff, Nottingham, Queens Belfast, Stirling & Edinburgh, was to establish child welfare inequalities as a core concept in policy making, practice and research in the UK and internationally. It focused attention on preventing harm to children by studying populations, structures and systems and by providing evidence that will help re-shape the direction and focus of children’s services.


The project has had major impacts with policymakers in all four countries of the UK and Ofsted, changing the conversation about the role of poverty and inequality in children’s social care. For example, the Welsh Government now has an explicit policy of reducing the numbers of children in care by supporting families better. The Scottish Independent Care Review cited this research in its call for a profound reorientation of children’s social work towards keeping families together. In Glasgow, the number of children in care has been reduced by almost 500 since 2016, informed by the research, with entry rates and placement moves cut by 60% and 70% respectively. Across England local authorities have begun to change their policies in relation to how they support families in poverty and a suite of materials have been developed by the British Association of Social Workers. In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health produced an Anti-Poverty Framework to inform all social work practice.

Further information

For a brief overview of the project see the project Final Report and Executive Summary.

For further information please contact Paul Bywaters.

You are also welcome to join the Child Welfare Inequalities Network.

Related projects

This project builds on the findings of the Deprivation and Inequalities in Children's Services Interventions project. Also funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the central aim of this project was to examine the role of deprivation in explaining differences in key children’s services’ interventions between and within local authorities (LAs) in England. 

In addition, in 2015, the Jospeh Rowntree Foundation commissioned a rapid evidence review of the relationship between poverty and child abuse and neglect - see The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect

Project Outputs


Bywaters, P., Bunting, L., Davidson, G., Hanratty, J., Mason, W., McCartan, C. and Steils, N. (2016) The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect: an evidence review. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

Under review:

Webb, C., Bywaters, P. Scourfield, J., Davidson, G. and Bunting, L. Cuts both ways: ethnicity and the social gradient in child welfare interventions. Children and Youth Services Review.

Webb, C., Scourfield, J., and Bywaters, P. Income Inequality and Child Welfare in England and Wales. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

In Press

Mason, W., Morris, K., Featherstone, B., Bunting, L., Davidson, G., McCartan, C., Bywaters, P. and Webb, C. (In Press) Understanding out of home care rates in Northern Ireland: a thematic analysis of mixed methods case studies, British Journal of Social Work.

Scourfield, J., Webb, C., Elliott, M., Staniland, L. and Bywaters, P. (in press) Are child welfare intervention rates higher or lower in areas targeted for enhanced early years services? Child Abuse Review


2020 Webb, C., Bywaters, P. Scourfield, J., McCartan, C., Bunting, L., Davidson, G. and Morris, K. Untangling Child Welfare Inequalities and the ‘Inverse Intervention Law’ in England, Children and Youth Services Review online

2019 Mason, W., Morris, K., Webb, C., Daniel, B., Featherstone, B., Bywaters, P., Mirza, N., Hooper, J., Brady, G., Bunting, L., Scourfield, J. Towards full integration of quantitative and qualitative methods in case study research: insights from investigating child welfare inequalities. Journal of Mixed Methods Research online, May.

2019 Bywaters, P., Scourfield, J., Webb, C., Morris, K., Featherstone, B., Brady, G. Jones, C. and Sparks, T. Paradoxical evidence on ethnic inequities in child welfare: towards a research agenda. Child and Youth Services Review 96: 145-154.

2019 Featherstone, B., Morris, K., Daniel, B., Bywaters, P., Brady, G., Bunting, L., Mason, W. and Mirza, N., Poverty, inequality, child abuse and neglect: Changing the conversation in child protection? Children and Youth Services Review 97, February: 127-133.

2018 Bywaters, P., Scourfield, J., Jones, C., Sparks, T., Elliott, M., Hooper, J., McCartan, C., Shapira, M., Bunting, L., Daniel, B. (2018). Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK. Journal of Social Work online, September.

2018 McCartan, C., Bunting, L., Bywaters, P., Davidson, G., Elliott, M., & Hooper, J. (2018). A Four-Nation Comparison of Kinship Care in the UK: The Relationship between Formal Kinship Care and Deprivation. Social Policy and Society, 17 (4): 619-635.

2018 Webb, C. and Bywaters, P. Austerity, rationing and inequity: trends in children’s & young peoples’ services expenditure in England between 2010 and 2015. Local Government Studies 44 (3): 391-415.

2018 Mason, W., Mirza, N., & Webb, C. Using the framework method to analyze mixed-methods case studies. SAGE Research Methods Cases.

2018 Bunting, L., Davidson, G., McCartan, C., Hanratty, J., Bywaters, P., Mason, W. and Steils, N. The Association between Child Maltreatment and Adult Poverty – A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Research. Child Abuse and Neglect 77: 121-133.

2018 Morris, K., Mason, W., Bywaters, P., Bunting, L., Hooper, J., Mirza, N., Brady, G., Scourfield, J. and Webb, C. Social work, poverty, and child welfare interventions, Child and Family Social Work, 23 (3): 364-372.

2018 Bywaters, P., Brady, G., Bunting, L., Daniel, B., Featherstone, B., Jones, C., Morris, K, Scourfield, J., Sparks, T., Webb, C. Inequalities in English child protection practice under austerity: a universal challenge? Child and Family Social Work 23 (1): 53–61.

2018 Bunting, L., McCartan, C., McGhee, J., Bywaters, P., Daniel, B., Featherstone, B. and Slater, T. Trends in Child Protection across the UK: A Comparative Analysis, British Journal of Social Work, 48 (5): 1154-1175.

2018 McGhee, J., Bunting, L., McCartan, C., Elliott, M., Bywaters, P. and Featherstone, B. Looking After Children in the UK—Convergence or Divergence? British Journal of Social Work, 48 (5): 1176-1198.

2017 Davidson, G., Bunting, L., Bywaters, P., Featherstone, B. and McCartan, C. Child Welfare as Justice: Why Are We Not Effectively Addressing Inequalities? The British Journal of Social Work, 47: (6), 1641–1651,

2017 Bywaters, P. and Sparks, T. Child protection in England: an emerging inequalities perspective. Journal of Children’s Services. 12 (2-3): 107-112.

2017 Bywaters, P., Kwhali, J., Brady, G., Sparks, T. and Bos, E. Out of sight, out of mind: ethnic inequalities in child protection and out-of-home care intervention rates. British Journal of Social Work 47 (7): 1884–1902.

2016 Mason, W. and Bywaters, P. Poverty, child abuse and neglect: patterns of cost and spending. Families, Relationships and Societies, 5 (1): 155-161

2016 Bywaters, P., Brady, G., Sparks, T., and Bos, E. Inequalities in child welfare intervention rates: the intersection of deprivation and identity, Child and Family Social Work, 21 (4) 452-463.

2016 Bywaters, P., Brady, G., Sparks, T., and Bos, E. Child welfare inequalities: new evidence, further questions, Child and Family Social Work, 21 (3): 369-80.

2015 Bywaters, P., Brady, G., Sparks, T., Bos, E., Bunting, L., Daniel, B., Featherstone, B., Morris, K. & Scourfield, J., Exploring inequities in child welfare and child protection services: explaining the ‘inverse intervention law’, Children and Youth Services Review 57, October: 98-105.

2015 Bywaters, P. Inequalities in child welfare: towards a new policy, research and action agenda. British Journal of Social Work, 45 (1): 6-23 

Special Issues

2018 Bywaters, P., Featherstone, B. and Morris, K. Editors of special issue of Social Sciences (online journal): Child Protection and Social Inequality.

Briefing Papers

Briefing Paper 1: England

Briefing Paper 2: UK Four Country Quantitative Comparison

Briefing Paper 3: Case Study Findings

Briefing Paper 4: Scotland

Briefing Paper 5: Wales

Briefing Paper 6: Northern Ireland

Technical Papers

2017 Bywaters, P., Brady, G., Jones, C., Sparks, T., McCartan, C., Bunting, L., Hooper, J., Shapira, M., Daniel, B., Elliott, M. and Scourfield, J. Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates: Quantitative Methodology Technical Paper

Magazine and Online Articles

2019 Bywaters, P., Featherstone, B. and Morris, K. The Child Welfare Inequalities Project: What Do We Know - Where Next? Care Knowledge. June.

2018 Bywaters, P. A child’s chances of being taken into care depend on where they live in the UK. The Conversation, September 20.

2018 Bywaters, P. and Webb, C. There is clear evidence that links deprivation, expenditure and quality in children’s services. Community Care, Feb. 7th

2017 Bywaters, P. What the new looked-after children statistics don’t tell us. Community Care, October 3rd.

2017 Morris, K. Is tackling poverty no longer ‘core business’ for social workers? Community Care March 15.

2017 Bywaters, P., Webb, C. and Sparks, T. Ofsted Judgements Do Reflect local authority Deprivation and Expenditure, Community Care Jan 18th, 2017.

2016 Morris, K., Mason, W., Bywaters, P., Featherstone, B., Daniels, B. and Mirza, N. Understanding Social Work Care and Protection Decisions: Does Inequality Set the Agenda? Family Potential


BASW Podcast Episode 2 - Child Welfare Inequalities Research Project. Bywaters, P., Morris, K. and Featherstone, B.


2019 Webb, C. The Child Welfare Inequalities Project App


The Inverse Intervention Law

Web Page 


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