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Feasibility study for research into improving children’s social services

Researchers: Matt Barnard | Ivana La Valle

Project overview

This feasibility study is examining fundamental questions about the definition of a ‘good’ service for children in need, as well as ways of accurately assessing whether that standard has been reached. Evidence on these questions will pave the way for a fuller investigation of exactly how these standards have been achieved, sustained or eluded in a sample of local authorities that reflect different journeys between success and failure.

The feasibility study consists of:

  • A review of the literature on what works in delivering effective children’s social care and how service improvement can be achieved and embedded.
  • A review of current national measures and existing national datasets used to assess the effectiveness of children’s social care, which will identify gaps and suggest how the national statistical evidence could be improved.
  • The development of a typology of local authorities based on their children’s social services performance and capacity to improve, or lack thereof.

Some local authorities appear to have become trapped in an apparent cycle of failure when it comes to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in need. There is evidence that action taken in response to critical Ofsted inspections often fails to deliver sustained improvement, suggesting that understanding why things go wrong and what constitutes success does not necessarily translate into the ability to improve practice.

Alongside this is the question of how best to accurately assess the quality of children’s services. The current inspection programme is resulting in falling Ofsted ratings, but the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives are questioning whether this approach is either accurate or helpful.


  • Matt Barnard
    Anna Freud Centre
  • Ivana La Valle
    University of East London

  • Director, Justice
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.