Child welfare interventions: reducing, reflecting or reinforcing social inequalities

Paul Bywaters

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    While there is a longstanding, if ambivalent, relationship between social work and families living in poverty, the question whether child welfare services reflect, reduce or reinforce social inequalities in family life and children's wellbeing remains little explored. Recent data from a 10% sample of children on child protection plans or being looked after in out-of-home care in England have shed new light on the extent and nature of the relationship between social deprivation at the neighbourhood level and social work interventions in family life. This paper reports key findings from that study, drawing on the analytical methods and concepts developed in the study of inequalities in health, such as the social gradient and the inverse care law. It provides evidence of very large socially structured inequalities in child welfare intervention rates and concludes that rates of intervention cannot be usefully compared between local administrative areas or nations without taking into account the impact of deprivation and ethnicity. However, the new information provided by this study also raises crucial questions, including whether higher or lower rates of intervention reflect greater safety for children, how we judge the effectiveness of national child welfare systems and the morality of the current (English) policy emphasis on adoption. The paper reports on the developing theory of child welfare inequalities and suggests a framework for international research.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    EventEuropean Conference for Social Work Research 2015 - Ljubljana, Slovenia
    Duration: 22 Apr 201524 Apr 2015


    ConferenceEuropean Conference for Social Work Research 2015

    Bibliographical note

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    • child welfare
    • poverty
    • social work
    • looked-after children
    • child protection plans


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