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Investigating the reasons for the rise in Care Order Applications

Researchers: Dr Lauren Devine | Stephen Parker

Project overview

This study will provide evidence on the factors that appear to be driving the sustained increase in the number of care order applications in recent years.

The study is taking a whole-system approach to the issue of progression through the child protection system. It builds on Dr Devine’s previous ESRC-funded project, which focused on the referral and assessment stages of the child protection system, by extending coverage to the later stages of the system, and complements this with an in-depth regional study will be undertaken in the Bristol Civil and Family Justice Centre. The study will involve: 

  • A focused review of empirical studies on case progression, followed by 20-30 semi-structured interviews with key informants, including members of the judiciary to establish the factors that professionals believe are relevant.
  • Building of a national aggregate level data set covering the period 1991/92 to 2017/18 to enable analysis of patterns and trends in each category of abuse at each stage of the system.
  • Analysis of case files in the Bristol area (a sample of around 400 HMCTS and CAFCASS case files from the period 2011-2018 will be randomly selected, and a comparator sample of around 400 LA files for cases that did not progress to a care order application). This will provide an assessment of whether cases with different characteristics are more or less likely to progress, as well as how and why decisions are made and acted on at different stages.

The study will map out the size and shape of the funnel from initial referral to care order and how this has changed over time. It will also identify the contribution of legislative, statutory guidance, policy and practice developments on these patterns, and the factors that contribute to decision-making.

The findings have potential to inform future reforms, and will also be used to produced recommendations for the design of an interactive, online ‘dashboard’ that would support ongoing monitoring of the flow of cases at critical points in the system.


  • Dr Lauren Devine
    Primary researcher
    University of the West of England
  • Stephen Parker
    University of the West of England

  • Ash Patel
    Programme Head, Justice
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Justice
    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.

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