Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK

Paul Bywaters, Jonathan Scourfield, Chantel Jones, Tim Sparks, Martin Elliott, Jade Hooper, Claire McCartan, Marina Shapira, Lisa Bunting, Brigid Daniel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


Comparative international data on patterns of inequality in child welfare interventions, for example, the proportion of children about whom there are substantiated child protection concerns or who are in out-of-home care, are far less developed than data about inequalities in health. Few countries collect reliable, comprehensive information and definitions, methods of data collection and analysis are rarely consistent. The four UK countries (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) provide a potential ‘natural experiment’ for comparing intervention patterns. This study reports on a large quantitative, descriptive study focusing on children in contact with children’s services on a single date in 2015. It found that children’s chances of receiving a child protection intervention were related to family socio-economic circumstances, measured by neighbourhood deprivation, within all four countries. There was a strong social gradient which was significantly steeper in some countries than others. Ethnicity was another important factor underlying inequalities. While inequalities in patterns of intervention between the four countries were considerable, they did not mirror relative levels of deprivation in the child population. Inequalities in intervention rates result from a combination of demand and supply factors. The level and extent of inequity raise profound ethical, economic and practical challenges to those involved in child protection, the wider society and the state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-215
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number2
Early online date11 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


Nuffield Foundation


  • Child protection
  • Child welfare
  • Ethnicity
  • Inequalities
  • Looked after children
  • Out-of-home care
  • Social gradient
  • Social work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    Bywaters, P., Scourfield, J., Jones, C., Sparks, T., Elliott, M., Hooper, J., ... Daniel, B. (2020). Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK. Journal of Social Work, 20(2), 193-215.