£750,000 grant will enable better data usage to improve children’s lives

Rows of primary school children in school with backs to camera

Lancaster University is part of a consortium awarded a £750,000 grant to improve knowledge about children involved with early intervention and children’s social care services.

At a time when the number of children in care continues to increase to concerning levels, there is an urgent need to make the most of large-scale national datasets to improve our understanding of children’s journeys before they enter public care.

The consortium will establish a Community Catalyst, which will connect and support researchers and analysts, with the aim of accelerating the use of valuable national datasets. The Catalyst will also provide strategic leadership regarding a data strategy for children – setting out where there are clear gaps in knowledge and developing a shared understanding of new research priorities.

The university consortium is funded by ADR UK (Administrative Data Research UK). ADR UK aims to transform the use of public sector data, with the aim of ensuring service design and investment to improves lives. ADR UK is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. For this project, co-funding is also provided by Foundations, an organisation focused on the development of effective family support services, through the generation of applied research and practical solutions.

The consortium aims to work collaboratively with the Department for Education, the Department for Health and Social Care, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, to ensure a collective and comprehensive understanding of evidence gaps and priorities. It is important that the work of the Catalyst complements other national initiatives that are focused on improving data use and data infrastructures.

The new Community Catalyst is co-led by Professor Karen Broadhurst (Lancaster University) and Associate Professor Lucy Griffiths (Swansea University). The wider team consortium includes University College London, Imperial College London and the University of Sussex.

The data landscape for children who come into contact with early intervention services or children’s social care is scattered and there are major gaps in knowledge. This limits its potential to drive policy, practice and research that improves children’s lives.

The view of ADR UK is that knowledge is fragmented; there is no clear sense of research gaps or priorities, and where evidence exists, it often gathers dust on a shelf. Researchers in the field have varying levels of connectivity and support.

The ‘ADR England Research Community Catalyst for Children at Risk of Poor Outcomes’

programme, granted as part of the ADR England Research Community Catalyst Awards, will tackle these problems, by driving up the use of ADR England flagship datasets and provide a clear steer to funders, about priorities for research investment.

Professor Broadhurst said: “ADR UK has made remarkable progress in creating new opportunities for researchers to access administrative data to address critical societal questions.

“However, more needs to be done to enable collaboration across disciplines and among researchers and analysts, to realise these opportunities. Over the next two years, we are confident that our Catalyst will ensure a better informed and connected community, that drives forward knowledge about children at risk of poor outcomes.”

Associate Professor Lucy Griffiths, of Swansea University, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to support and strengthen a growing community of researchers equipped to use valuable ADR UK flagship datasets.

“We also welcome the opportunity to develop a shared understanding of priorities for future research and investment, which will address the most pressing questions about children at risk of poor outcomes. A data strategy for children is urgently needed, and our Catalyst will be very well placed to shape a national strategy.”

The project is co-funded ADR UK with Foundations – What Works for Children & Families. Co-investigators include Dr Jenny Woodman and Professor Katie Harron (University College London), Professor Lisa Holmes (University of Sussex) and Dr Dougal Hargreaves (Imperial College London).

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