DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcad259 ISSN: 0045-3102

Changing Trends in Child Welfare Inequalities in Northern Ireland

Lisa Bunting, Nicole Gleghorne, Aideen Maguire, Sarah McKenna, Dermot O’Reilly
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Health (social science)


Longitudinal research in England and Wales has identified increasing inequality in child welfare interventions, particularly with respect to children in the poorest areas coming into care. Although previous cross-sectional research has shown associations between area level deprivation and child welfare interventions to be weakest in Northern Ireland (NI), it remains unknown if this reflects wider trends over time. This study uses longitudinal administrative data to investigate the relationship between area level deprivation and the (1) referral, (2) investigation, (3) registration and (4) looked after stages of children’s contact with child and family social work from 2010 to 2017 (stages 1–3) and 2020 (stage 4). Both relative and absolute measures of inequality (Ratio of Inequality, Slope Index of Inequality and Relative Index of Inequality) were calculated to examine trends. The results highlight a clear and increasing social gradient in child welfare interventions in NI over time, particularly at the higher levels of intervention and those involving children aged 0–4 years. Routine analysis of children’s social care caseloads by deprivation is highlighted as a means of focusing attention on poverty and material inequality, prompting practitioners, managers and policy makers to consider the drivers of such inequality and how this might be addressed.

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