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University of Stirling child welfare expert supports study of UK’s child safeguarding systems

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child neglect

Why are children from poor neighbourhoods more likely to be subject to a child protection intervention than those living in better off areas?

A leading Scottish social work academic is contributing to a comprehensive study of inequalities in child welfare systems to address this question.

The University of Stirling’s Professor Brigid Daniel will work with academic colleagues from universities in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales, where child welfare systems and intervention rates differ, to establish what is driving child welfare inequalities across the UK.

The project, led by Coventry University and funded by the Nuffield Foundation will compare disparities in child safeguarding throughout the country.  It will also explore potential reasons for the inequalities in child welfare within and between the four UK countries.

In Scotland,  the total number of children looked after has fallen for the first time since 2001, but the number of children being looked after by foster carers and prospective adopters or in other community placements remains at the highest level on record.

Since 2001 there has been a steady 34 per cent increase in the number of children on the child protection register.

Professor Brigid Daniel, Professor of Social Work in Stirling’s School of Applied Social Science, said: “Scotland aspires to be the best place for children to grow up and this has to include all children, including those whose start in life is difficult.

“Too many children’s lives in Scotland are blighted by the effects of poverty and deprivation and, in particular, the corrosive effects of inequality of opportunity.

“The findings from this study will provide crucial evidence to help public services tackle and reduce inequalities in child wellbeing.”

The project will be led by Professor of Social Work, Prof Paul Bywaters, from Coventry University. He said: “Almost 5 children in a 1000 in Wales and Northern Ireland are on a child protection plan or register, but fewer than 4 in 1000 children in England and fewer than 3 in Scotland.

“Is this a postcode lottery or the result of deprivation, demography, policy or practice? How do we judge which country’s safeguarding system is working best? This is what this project is aiming to find out. Our findings could lead to fundamental changes in policy and practice for children’s services across UK and internationally.”

Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer, Sir Henry Burns, will lead the project’s Advisory Board. He is now a professor of global public health at Strathclyde University, specialising in health inequalities. He said: "Much of my career has been spent in trying to understand the causes and consequences of health inequalities.

“It is very clear that the way in which families are supported is an important predictor of good outcome for children and this project can make an important contribution to understand how we can build healthy and successful young people.”

Karen McIntosh

Public Relations Officer

Notes for editors
Background information
  • The two year project, led by Professor Paul Bywaters and Dr. Geraldine Brady of the new research Centre for Communities and Social Justice, will involve teams in 6 partner Universities, the Open University and the University of Nottingham, University of Stirling, University of Edinburgh, Queen’s University Belfast, and Cardiff University.

Stirling’s social work and social policy research

  • Stirling’s social work and social policy research performed outstandingly well in the Research Excellence Framework 2014, with over 75% of research rated as either world-leading or internationally excellent, and 100% of research impact judged to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.
  • Stirling research into identifying and helping neglected children has had significant impact on child protection policy development and professional practice in Scotland and England. Stirling research which formed part of the UK Government-funded ‘Safeguarding Children Research Initiative’ (SCRI) led to the development of a range of training materials and learning resources used by child safeguarding agencies across England and clinical staff in NHS Scotland.


  • The University of Stirling is the base for WithScotland - a national resource supporting professionals working with children and adults at risk of harm and abuse. We connect research with practice; exchange knowledge and ideas and coordinate activities across Child and Adult Protection Communities.  At the heart of WithScotland is the principle of improving outcomes for children in need of care and protection and adults at risk of harm.

The Nuffield Foundation

  • The Nuffield Foundation has awarded a research grant of over £550,000 to the new Centre for Communities and Social Justice (CSJ) at Coventry University to study inequalities in child welfare systems across the UK. Coventry will lead the project that will also involve six partner UK universities.*
  • The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

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