Richard Cotmore discusses how randomised control trials (RCTs) can be used to measure the impact of services for children and families
We use randomised control trials (RCTs) to find out if some of our services are having a positive impact on children and families. We do this by comparing the outcomes for 2 groups of people: one group that uses a particular service and one that doesn't.
The way we allocate people to each group is purely random – so if one group has a better outcome than the other, we can link it to the support they are getting through the service. RCTs are rare within a social care setting so it can be something of a culture shock for people working with children and families when we ask them to become involved in this sort of research.
There are different ways to organise an RCT, but in the example below we used a waiting list for the control group. Researchers from Bristol and Durham universities carried out an independent evaluation of our Letting the Future In programme, a service for children and young people who have been affected by sexual abuse. About half of the children were able to take part in Letting the Future In straight away. The other half were asked to go on a waiting list, so that we could compare the outcomes of children and young people who had and hadn’t received the service. After we had collected the data for the research, group 2 were all able to take part in the service.
A huge amount of work was required from our practitioners, their managers and our evaluation department to support the researchers who were carrying out the evaluation.
Here is what we learned.