Written evidence from What Works for Children’s Social Care (CPM0017)





What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry on children in poverty. WWCSC generates, collates and makes accessible the best evidence for practitioners, policy makers and practice leaders to improve children’s social care and the outcomes it generates for children and families.


Our submission focuses on the relationship between poverty and the children’s social care system, as well as looking at the educational attainment gap.


What is the impact of child poverty and how can it best be measured?

What links can be established for children between financial hardship, educational under-achievement, family breakdown and worklessness?


  1. There is a growing body of research that shows that children and families living in poverty are significantly more likely to be the subject of state intervention. The Child Welfare Inequalities Project (CWIP) has shown that the chances of a child growing up in a situation that leads them to have involvement with children's social services, whether that be taken into care or placed on a child protection plan, are unequal.


  1. The study of over 35,000 individual children found that children in the most deprived 10% of small neighbourhoods in the UK are more than 10 times more likely to be in foster or residential care or on a child protection plan than children in the least deprived 10% of small neighbourhoods. More than half (about 55%) of children on child protection plans or in care in the study, came from the most deprived 20% of neighbourhoods.[1]
  2. This research highlights the relationship between living in a deprived area and children’s social care interventions. It is clear that socio-economic circumstances of families is a factor in the likelihood of a child being taken into care or being placed on a child protection plan. As the final report from CWIP notes, there is now an urgent need for us to understand more about the complex ways in which a family's socio-economic circumstances impact on a child’s life and their interaction with social services.
  3. Although the Department for Education and local authorities have data on children within their care, it would be beneficial if data on parent’s characteristics (including socio economic data) was available. As Bywaters has noted, collecting this data would help better understand the causes of children’s difficulties and potentially how to respond.
  4. There is also growing evidence about the educational attainment gap between children with social care experience and their peers. Whilst not all children and young people with a social worker or involvement with social services will be experiencing financial hardship, there is a large overlap. The Department for Education’s Children in Need review found that 65% of children who had been found to be a child in need between 2012-13 and 2017-18 had received Free School Meals at some point.[2]
  5. In April last year, Bristol University and the Rees Centre at Oxford University published quantitative analysis of data from a whole birth cohort of children (471,688) born in England in 2000/01, starting school in 2006/07 and tracked through to their GCSEs  in 2017.[3]
  6. This showed that a significant minority of all pupils, 1 in 7 (69,246), experienced an intervention from children’s services at some stage between Years 1-11. It also found that for these children, at each Key Stage, their attainment and progress was lower when compared with those who had no social care intervention. At primary school their attainment was between 10-16% lower than their peers, increasing to 34-53%  at secondary school.


  1. The gap increased with the severity of the intervention, so in secondary school those with a children in need plan scored 34% lower, those on a child protection scored 46% lower and children in care scored 53% lower than their peers with no involvement with children’s services.


  1. The research also involved interviews with families. This discovered that many faced the additional challenge of living in poverty. Parents found it hard to afford what their children needed for school, including uniforms, computers and internet access. In contrast, most foster carers said they could afford what was needed for children’s education.


  1. These problems may have been further embedded by the current Covid-19 pandemic. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) research found that during the first lockdown the richest third of primary school children spent 4.5 hours per week more on learning than the poorest third.[4] Active learning materials, for example online classes, were 37% more likely to be provided to the richest third of primary school children than the poorest third and 1 in 8 children were using a phone or had no device to access online schooling, with 22% of primary school children having no study space at home.


  1. Many children with a social worker will be captured within the poorest third in IFS’s study who were disproportionately impacted by the closure of school. And although vulnerable children, including children with a social worker, were encouraged to attend school during this period, the take up of places was low (average attendance for children with an EHCP or social worker was only 7.8% between the end of March and start of June 2020).[5]


  1. It is clear that children and young people living in poverty are more likely to be subject to social care intervention, and also that this group have poorer educational outcomes than their peers.


  1. Any inquiry looking at the impact of child poverty should consider how children’s social care and poverty interlink and what further steps are needed to ensure children’s services can meet the needs of families living in poverty. 



February 2021






[1] Bywaters, P. and the Child Welfare Inequalities Project Team (2020). The Child Welfare Inequalities Project: Final Report. Nuffield Foundation. URL: https://pure.hud.ac.uk/en/publications/the-child-welfare-inequalities-project-final-report.

[2]Department for Education (2019) Help, protection, education: Concluding the children in need review


[3] Berridge, D., Luke, N., Sebba, J., Steve, S., Cartwright, M., Staples, E., McGrath-Lone, L., Ward,J., & O’Higgins, A., (April 2020),Children in Need and Children in Care: Educational Attainment & Progress

[4] IFS (2020), Family time use and home learning during the Covid-19 lockdown

[5] The Children’s Commissioner. (Updated 2 November 2020). School return: Covid-19 and school attendance. https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/cco-school-return-covid-19-and-school-attendance.pdf