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Policy Research Programme - Evaluation of the multi-agency child safeguarding reforms


14 December 2021


1.0 - December 2021


Timetable and Budget

Description Deadline/Limit
Deadline for stage 1 applications 18 January 2022, 1 PM
Notification of outcome of stage 1 March 2022
Deadline for stage 2 application 3 May 2022, 1 PM
Notification of outcome of stage 2 August 2022
Project start September 2022
Budget £500,000


1. The NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) invites applications for a single research project to design an evaluation of the new multi-agency child safeguarding reforms.

2. These reforms were introduced through the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which gave the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Department for Education (DfE) and the Home Office (HO), and their respective agencies, joint responsibility for the statutory child safeguarding system. The new arrangements were required to be in place in every local authority area in England by September 2019.

3. This evaluation would aim to provide an initial assessment of the effectiveness of the multi-agency child safeguarding reforms and provide a framework against which the longer-term impact of these reforms can be monitored. These will be based primarily on outcomes achieved for children and young people.

4. This will be a three-stage project, with the first being an evidence review to establish potential evaluation frameworks and outcome metrics. The second will be the design and application of a prospective evaluation to assess the impact of the new multi-agency safeguarding arrangements to date. The third will be the development of a framework for future monitoring of the post-reforms child safeguarding system. We accept that these objectives are likely to be challenging and encourage applicants to propose creative solutions.


5. The government set out the new multi-agency arrangements for safeguarding children in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and in Chapter 3 of the updated Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance.[1] Under the new arrangements, the local authority chief executive, clinical commissioning group accountable officer and the chief officer of police in a local area are the three ‘safeguarding partners’ with ‘a shared and equal duty to make arrangements to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children in a local area’. To fulfil this role, however, these partners must set out how they will work with all other ‘relevant agencies’ (e.g. early years setting, schools and colleges) in their area.

6. These new arrangements replaced previous multi-agency safeguarding arrangements led by Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCB). Although the new arrangements are now established in all local areas, different approaches have been taken to adapting or replacing the previous arrangements and as such there are differing levels of maturity and success. COVID-19 has also been a significant barrier to the development of the new arrangements.

7. A range of reviews and surveys has been carried out to measure progress with implementation, including a recent government-commissioned review by independent expert Sir Alan Wood.[2] However, we do not yet have any evidence on the success of the reforms overall, or a framework for gathering this evidence. There is therefore a need for a wider piece of work looking beyond the implementation stage and focusing on the system’s overall impact on outcomes for children and families.

Research priorities

8. The aim of this project is to design an evaluation framework for the effectiveness of the multi-agency reforms introduced by the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and evaluate the outcomes for children and families who have interacted with the statutory child safeguarding system. The successful application will set out how to evaluate the impact of the new joint responsibility given to local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and police forces to build an evidence base for multi-agency working which will inform future policymaking in this area.

9. Before commissioning this research, DHSC held a cross-sector, multi-disciplinary workshop to establish the scope of the research question and gather expert views on potential approaches to evaluating the multi-agency reforms. A recording and full outputs of this event are available on request. The workshop generated a set of principles which this project should prioritise. These are that:

  1. This project must consider the extent to which the work of the new safeguarding partnerships is informed by the views and experiences of children and families.
  2. This project must be preceded by a thorough evidence review. This should synthesise work published and (where possible) underway on measuring outcomes relevant to child safeguarding. This should include work from beyond research settings, e.g. local reviews carried out by safeguarding partners, and any government reports relevant to this stage of implementation, while acknowledging the relative rigour of these evidence sources and weighting them accordingly.
  3. The research approach and outputs should be equally relevant and accessible to the three safeguarding partners and other relevant agencies. Common language should be used where possible. It should consider potential outcome measures relevant to all three safeguarding partners and any additional relevant agencies.
  4. The project should account for different approaches in different localities, and any proposed framework should be nationally applicable (in England). If appropriate, it could include some evaluation of these different approaches.
  5. The project must not discount qualitative, informal data sources and outcome measures, including live intelligence and insight from practitioners.
  6. We expect this project to propose an approach (or approaches) to accounting for the confounding impact of COVID-19.

The scope for this programme of work

10. This project should focus on the effectiveness of the new multi-agency safeguarding arrangements as specified in Chapter 3 of the Working Together guidance. It does not need to evaluate broader reforms introduced under the Children and Social Work Act 2017 or the implementation of the full contents of the Working Together guidance (2018).

11. In view of the principles that emerged from the cross-sector, multi-disciplinary workshop, the primary focus should be outcomes for children and their families, and to what extent partnership working in policing, health and children’s social care has allowed agencies to deliver more than the sum of their parts.

12. We expect this project to focus on outcomes for children and families from September 2019, the point by which all areas were required to have multi-agency safeguarding arrangements in place. Given the absence of high-quality historical data on child and family wellbeing outcomes, the project team may decide to focus on how the different post-reform arrangements across England affect outcomes, rather than attempting to demonstrate how outcomes have changed over time.

13. The first (scoping) stage should include a review of relevant research and other evidence that would inform the design of a later evaluation. This scoping activity should also identify existing data that might inform the evaluation, and explore the potential for, and challenges of, an evaluation whose primary focus is outcomes for children and families. Findings from the first stage will be discussed with DHSC, DfE and HO, and their respective agencies, in order to agree detailed plans for the second stage.

14. The second stage of the project will involve the design and application of a prospective evaluation to assess the impact of the new multi-agency safeguarding arrangements to date. Ideally, we would like the evaluation to consider both how outcomes have changed over time and how different arrangements across the country may affect child and family outcomes.

15. The third stage will be the development of a framework for future monitoring of the safeguarding reforms.

16. Central to both the evaluation of the reforms and the framework for future monitoring should be the outcomes experienced by children and families. Applicants are encouraged to propose creative, innovative solutions to this challenging question. As far as possible, the project team is strongly advised to build on existing robust outcome measurement frameworks (such as that developed by La Valle et al (2019) and the ongoing work by the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care) in evaluating whether the new multi-agency arrangements have improved outcomes for children and families and establish if it is possible to identify a standard outcomes framework.

17. Working Together 2018 does not provide explicit guidance but leaves local areas to agree the arrangements they feel work best for their local circumstances. An important component of the project, therefore, is a description of multi-agency arrangements across the country, for example in terms of structure, size, governance arrangements, roles of other relevant agencies and other features that could potentially have an impact on outcomes for children and families. It will be important to understand how well local agencies engage with children and families. The research team would have access to survey data collected by Sir Alan Wood as part of his recent independent review.[2] In describing variations in arrangements, the research team should be cognisant of variations prior to implementation of the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

18. It is expected that the project team would select a small number of localities (case study sites) across England for more detailed evaluation. Those sites should reflect the most pertinent variations in arrangements across the country, taking account of differences in terms of local child population, socio-economic context, and regional governance. Multi-agency partnerships covering two or more local authority areas should also be considered.

19. The project should also look at how the roles and responsibilities of agencies engaged in the multi-agency arrangements have changed as a consequence of the reforms. Has organisational culture changed? Have there been changes in approaches to training? What data are now collected on individual children and families? How has inter-agency working changed? How well do the three main agencies work together, and what are the roles of other relevant agencies? How well do the three agencies engage with children and families, and listen to their experiences? How well is the central government supporting local agencies? (This list of potential questions is not exhaustive.)

20. The project should include an economic evaluation to understand the costs (for each agency, and for society as a whole) of achieving better outcomes for children and families under different local arrangements.

Expertise required

21.Knowledge and understanding of the subject matter.

22. Experience of relevant methodologies to carry out this multi-faceted project.

23. Commitment to co-production of research with practitioners, children and their families


24. Stage 1: An evidence review of outcome frameworks and metrics with relevance to child safeguarding. This should assess their value and relevance to safeguarding and inform stages 2 and 3.

25. Stage 2: An evaluation of the impact of the new multi-agency arrangements on outcomes for children and families based on the evidence collected in phase 1 and further data collected through the case studies.

26. Stage 3: The development of a forward-looking outcomes framework to support the ongoing monitoring of the reforms by policymakers, government analysts or future research projects.

27. These will be tailored outputs to suit particular audiences, such as policy makers and practitioners.

Budget and duration

28. The research is expected to be delivered within a cost of £500K over a period of 24 months, commencing by September 2022.

29. Costings can include up to 100% full economic costing (FEC) but should exclude output VAT. Applicants are advised that value for money is one of the key criteria that peer reviewers and commissioning panel members will assess applications against.

Management arrangements

30. A research advisory group should be established. It should include, but not be limited to, representatives of DHSC; the Department for Education; the Home Office; representatives of key stakeholder groups or organisations from health, policing and children’s social care; and the successful applicants for the research. The advisory group will provide guidance, meeting regularly over the lifetime of the research. The successful applicants should be prepared to review research objectives with the advisory group, and to share emerging findings on an ongoing basis. They will be expected to:

  1. Provide regular feedback on progress
  2. Produce timely reports to the advisory group
  3. Produce a final report for sign off

31. Research contractors will be expected to work with nominated officials in DHSC, its partners and the NIHR. Key documents including, for example, research protocols, research instruments, reports and publications must be provided to DHSC in draft form allowing sufficient time for review.

The application

32. There will be an expectation for researchers to engage with the policy team throughout the project. This will inform the research and help facilitate dialogue with policy makers.


  1. Department for Education. Working Together to Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. July 2018.
  2. Department for Education. Wood Review of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements. May 2021.