The potential of linked administrative data for understanding the relationships between children’s health and education

Category: Data linkage programmes, Events, Datasets, Reports, ADR England, Children & Young People, Health & Wellbeing

Written by Dr Louise Mc Grath-Lone 10 August 2021

Before I was a researcher, I was a secondary school teacher, and one of the things I learned very quickly is that children don’t leave their lives at the school gate. All of their experiences outside of school, including their health and wellbeing, are carried with them into the classroom and influence their ability to engage, to learn and to achieve their full potential.

As a teacher who knew my students as individuals, I was able to account for their health conditions, illnesses or absences and adapt what I did to support them, as best I could. But when I became a public health researcher, I found that I could only look at one part of the picture, because administrative data from schools and hospitals were analysed separately due to technical and governance barriers.

The Education and Child Health Insights from Linked Data (ECHILD) Database – which receives funding from ADR UK – is a new, linked administrative data resource that brings together information from health, education and social care for all children in England, for the first time. This means that it will now be possible to look at the relationships between these different areas of children’s lives and to gain a better understanding of how they affect, and are affected by, each other. This will allow research that accounts for the relationships between the different parts of children’s lives which will help to develop more effective policy.

The ECHILD Database covers the whole population of children in England and currently includes linked records for 14.7 million children. This makes it a powerful tool for research that includes diverse or relatively small groups of children. For example, children who have rare health conditions, who may not be represented in smaller studies, or children who are looked after, who have varied backgrounds, experiences and pathways through the care system. The large size of the ECHILD Database will allow research that focuses on under-represented groups or distinct sub-groups with different experiences, which will help to develop more targeted and tailored policies.

Administrative data from schools, children’s social care services and hospitals are usually analysed each year by the organisation that collects it. The annual statistics that are produced provide important snapshots of children’s experiences in a given year and, by comparing over time, can show how trends in a population are changing. But focusing on each year separately can’t capture experiences from a child’s perspective.

When we look back over our childhoods, most people don’t think about each individual year separately, but rather consider their experiences as a whole. Because the ECHILD Database is a longitudinal data resource, it stitches together records for the same child each year, building up a description of their experiences over time, from birth to age 25. This means that the ECHILD Database can be used to look at different pathways during childhood, and at how experiences early in life are related to outcomes later on. This kind of information could help to develop policy that is more child-focused and which acknowledges their accumulated life experiences and considers long-term effects and implications.

You can find out more about how the ECHILD Database is being used for research on the ECHILD project website.

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