WHEN he speaks at the Westminster launch of a new all-party report on children's social care, the University of Huddersfield's Professor Paul Bywaters will stress the vital importance of gathering data on parents as way of fully understanding the problems faced by families.
And he says that austerity policies negatively affecting both families and social care services are pushing the child protection system into crisis, a crisis most acutely felt by disadvantaged families in the most deprived areas.
The report is titled Storing Up Trouble and has been compiled by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) after it investigated the variations in social care thresholds around the UK. It concludes that child protection has become a "postcode lottery".
Professor Bywaters is a member of the University of Huddersfield's Centre for Applied Childhood, Youth and Family Research. He is also part of a seven-university consortium carrying out a seven-year research project titled Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates.
In February, he was called to give evidence to the APPGC together with fellow University of Huddersfield Professor Brid Featherstone and Professor Kate Morris from Sheffield University, and their work is extensively cited in the new report. As a result, he is one of the experts invited to join a panel at the launch of document on 11 July.
When he speaks, Professor Bywaters will focus on the importance of collecting data on parents of children that social care services are working with. Extraordinarily, this was not being done, he told the APPGC when he gave his evidence.
MPs heard that as a result, local authorities and government do not know how many children are from single parent families, how old their parents are, whether or not their parents are in, nor what kind of housing they have. It means that local authorities and social workers are unable to establish a full picture of the issues children and families are facing, Professor Bywaters told the APPGC.
The report quotes him as saying: "The complete absence of any systematic national data about the socio-economic and demographic circumstances of the parents of children in contact with children's services is a key problem in analysing the factors that influence demand for children's services. Collecting such data should be an urgent priority to underpin policy, service management and practice".
Accordingly, one of the report's 12 recommendations is that: "The Department for Education should put in place arrangements for the systematic analysis of data on the demographics of children (including age, gender, ethnicity and disability) and collect data on the circumstances of parents and carers whose children are accessing social care services".
The report cites Professor Bywaters on a range of other topics, such as ethnicity. He told the enquiry that there are large inequalities in the rates of looked-after children from different ethnic groups and these differences can have an impact on demand.
He also commented on a "radical shift" in the balance of services provided by children's social care. In 2010, about half of children's services budgets were spent on family support and prevention while the other half was spent on safeguarding work and children in care. But the balance has shifted so that just under a third is spent on family support/prevention while the remaining 71 per cent goes on safeguarding/children in care.
Professor Bywaters argues that this reduction in preventive, support services for families has major implications for trust between parents and the state, and for the children involved. In its report, the APPGC expressed concern that this shift away from preventative services is "pushing services down a slippery slope where the only option is to take more children into care".