Linked local data on children and young people
9 February 2023
There are serious challenges facing social care, education and health services for children and young people in England. Beyond high profile cases of avoidable child deaths, the social costs of poor outcomes experienced by children in the care system are estimated to be £23 billion per year. From obesity to death rates, children’s health outcomes in England are worse than in many comparable European countries.
Across government, it is recognised that a joined-up strategy is necessary to tackle these challenges. New research is needed to understand the links between different sectors and identify the most effective interventions to improve children’s outcomes. While some research questions are best studied using national datasets, the additional breadth and depth of local datasets offer exciting new opportunities to study the impact of interventions and gain insights into the most effective strategies to improve outcomes.
In this project, the team aims to create a research-ready dataset linking data held on children by local authorities, including education and social care, with data held by health services. This new resource will enable researchers to build evidence to support local and national strategies that improve outcomes for children.
This project involves linking:
- local authority education data
- local authority children’s social care data
- primary care data
- secondary uses service data (information used for reporting and analyses to support the delivery of healthcare services)
- related healthcare data.
This data is owned by the Caldicott Guardians of each local authority and care provider. A Caldicott Guardian is a senior person responsible for protecting the confidentiality of people’s health and care information and making sure it is used properly. Data linkage, processing and access will follow established protocols which are already used in North West London by researchers working on linked health and social care data for adults.
Potential of the newly linked data
The Department for Education’s Social Care Innovation Programme recognises a clear need for a more joined-up approach to information sharing between health, education and social care at all levels. This would help to improve the management of individual cases and reduce the ‘postcode lottery’ of inconsistent provision between local authority areas. The newly-linked dataset will enable research that can address these issues.
Initial pathfinder projects will address high priority government research questions and demonstrate the feasibility and potential of the new dataset to guide spending and policy decisions. The first will develop user-friendly information on looked-after children in each local authority, for example, how many of these children are in contact with mental health services. The second project will look at the impact of interventions in one sector on outcomes in another sector.
The long-term aim of the project is to enable research that supports more evidence-based and effective policies for children and young people. The dataset may be used to inform a wide range of local authority operational and spending decisions – in particular, it might provide a stronger evidence base for investment in prevention and early intervention across sectors. Using the newly linked dataset, researchers will be able to address research gaps in key national policy questions and so inform decisions that improve outcomes for children.
Key questions these newly linked datasets could help to address include:
- How does engagement with mental and physical health services by looked-after children vary between local authorities?
- How do short- and long-term health outcomes of looked-after children vary between local authorities?
- How do a child’s health needs interact with other needs in their trajectory to becoming a looked-after child?
- Does earlier support from mental health services improve later outcomes for looked-after children?
It is anticipated that the first version of the new linked dataset will be made available to external researchers via an approved trusted research environment from 2024. Accredited researchers will need to submit a successful application to access the data.
Project lead: Dr Dougal Hargreaves
Funded value: £482,757.79
Duration: October 2022 – September 2025
This project is funded via the ADR UK research-ready data and access fund, a dedicated fund for commissioning research using newly linked administrative data. Funding decisions were based on advice from an independent expert panel, and in consultation with the Office for National Statistics. This project is part of the ADR England portfolio.
Details of the funding grant awarded by ADR UK to Imperial College London for this project can also be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research platform.