<p>This report examines the design options for a survey of children in need which has the purpose of improving SSA formulae for children, and which may also be used to inform family policy generally. \ud \ud <p><p><p>The design features and content of such a survey are considered in relation to SSA requirements. Its main purpose is to identify and quantify the socio-demographic characteristics of children that are associated with a risk of being 'in need', and the cost consequences of this. These characteristics may then be used as the basis for population needs assessment of local authorities, using Census and related data. \ud \ud <p><p><p>A short feasibility study has been undertaken in five local authority social services departments to examine local interpretations of being "in need", and whether it would be possible to use local authority record systems either as a source of information or as the basis of a sampling frame for children in need. These authorities were not chosen randomly but are believed to be among the more advanced in regard to their information systems.\ud \ud <p><p><p>This feasibility study found considerable variations in local working definitions of need and how they are being applied. There was limited evidence of exactly how many children were falling within these definition. It is not practicable to use referral rate by children in need as a measure of demand in this context. \ud \ud <p><p><p>All the social services departments visited had an IT system for children, but they are often not working very effectively for all children known to the department. Only two of the five were wholely confident of being able to use it to generate a sample of children in need (or having received services), for the purpose of this study. In no case would the IT system alone contain a sufficiently wide range of information about the characteristics of children.\ud \ud <p><p><p>This being the case, two design options for a survey were explored. These were:\ud \ud <p><p><li>a retrospective study based as far as possible on children already known to SSD's and using information on file;</li><p><p><li>a prospective study of all new referrals, obtaining additional information from social workers at the time of referral or assessment. </li><p><p><p>The retrospective study is less demanding and therefore preferred by most authorities. But it requires that the information about the characteristics of children needed for this purpose is already known and preferably on file. This appears to be only routinely true for children in the highest levels of need: those being looked after, on CPR's, disabled, or on an active social work caseload. A prospective study is more certain of collecting the required information on a sample of all incoming children in need, or at least those for whom services will be provided. But it would take longer, and would be more intrusive. A prospective study would reflect the pattern of referrals rather than long-term work load, and would underestimate children with long-term needs, particularly the disabled. \ud \ud <p><p><p>Given these considerations, the best option might be for a combined strategy of a retrospective survey of those at the high end of need, and a short prospective survey on other children in need, for whom the referral rates are higher
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