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Title: The relationship between evidence and policy in children's social care : the case of looked after children
Author: Kerr, Mark Elliot
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 8806
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis investigates the relationship between the needs of looked after children, evidence and policy. It questions the assumption that this area of policy is evidence-based in the context of tackling the population's primary needs and improving their life outcomes. Background Services for looked after children and care leavers in England and Wales are at a critical juncture in policy and practice. In an area of Government policy where Ministers have adopted a top down command and control style of governing, local authorities as 'corporate parents' are in a difficult position. The combination of significant budget cuts for Children's Services and the highest number of children in care in 30 years threatens their ability to effectively deliver on statutory duties. The reality is local authorities are rationing some forms of therapeutic children's care. These decisions are not evidence informed but a demonstration of a myopic approach to meet budget reduction targets. Local authorities increasingly need knowledge about what works, when and for which children. Methods The aims of the research required mixed methods to be used. Quantitative methods are used to initially to map the needs of looked after children and care leavers as population including secondary analysis of official statistics. They are further used in a primary research study, an integral part of this thesis, to provide primary data on the care experiences and life outcomes for a sample of care leavers. Against the evidence, the thesis considers relevant policy to evaluate its impact over the last 25 years. The critical analysis of the relationship between evidence and policy required a qualitative approach using theories of policy-making heuristically applying Kingdon's (1984) multiple streams approach. To understand the way evidence is used to frame the needs of populations, the role of social constructivism must be considered. Findings Both the primary and secondary data indicate extremely high needs in the care population and among care leavers in adulthood, in particular emotional and mental health needs both in and after care. Factors that are policy goals for improvement including education and employment outcomes have made some improvement in a small number of domains, but overall outcomes for this population are not improving in some areas and getting worse in others. Although evidence is considered in policy-making for this population, it is used selectively and heavily influenced by policy actor's values and beliefs. This is having a detrimental effect on improving outcomes and causing a large proportion of the care population to move to independence with treatable mental illness, shunting costs to adult services. There is no evidence to indicate the increase in the use of fostering is able to meet the needs of a large percentage of the care population or improve their outcomes. The findings from the empirical study, although with limitations, indicates that this may be increasing the number of placement breakdowns due to high need young people being inappropriately placed in foster care instead of residential care. Conclusions Addressing needs and improving outcomes for looked after children requires a life-course approach. This is not conducive with the organisation and operations of the Department for Education. The primary need for looked after children is mental health and the most appropriate Government department to lead on their care is the Department of Health. Currently local authorities are expected to fund and meet the needs of looked after children but are not adequately resourced. Due to financial constraints, perverse incentives exists for minimal investment to meet statutory duties leading to the cost shunting of treatable mental health needs to the Department of Health, and unaddressed negative behaviours to the Ministry of Justice.
Supervisor: Shemmings, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral