Knowing how to protect: using research evidence to prevent harm to children How to improve the use of evidence in child protection practice

Staff sat around a table talkingThe evidence base for what works in social care is not as well developed as in other sectors. In 2014 the NSPCC and The Alliance for Useful Evidence ran a roundtable discussion on ways to improve the use of evidence to inform best practice in child protection.

This report summarises the arguments and key recommendations for improving the use of research evidence to support social workers' professional judgement. It is part of our Impact and evidence series.

Authors: Jonathan Breckon and Joanne Hay
Published: 2015

  • Practice and professional judgement must be supported by theory, research and the use of evidence-based tools.
  • Research evidence can help practitioners gain insights into the decision-making process in child protection practice.
  • Institutions help support evidence-informed child protection:
    • organisations such as the NSPCC and Research in Practice help practitioners access and apply research evidence.
    • the new government-led ‘What Works’ initiative will make research more accessible.
  • Trying new approaches and robustly evaluating them is important to learn more about what works. An example is the NSPCC’s service Letting the Future In.
  • Evidence frameworks, guides and toolkits that exist in other sectors can help practitioners decide what evidence is going to be useful when making child protection decisions.

Recommendations for improving evidence use

    • Social workers should get involved in using data and doing research by generating research questions or designing research projects. Managers should encourage this.
    • Practitioners should receive more training and education on how to use evidence in their work.
    • Practitioners should have more opportunities to share learning between peers.
    • Senior managers have an important role in creating a working environment that encourages the use of evidence.
    • The social work profession needs to create a culture that values and encourages research as in the health sector.
    • Reducing case loads and allowing more time for reflective activities would help to create more of an evidence-based culture.


Introduction 4
Evidence, intuition and good professional judgement 6
Can institutions support evidence–informed child protection? 8
Can we experiment to find out what works? 10
What is ‘good enough’ evidence? 12
Recommendations for improving evidence use 15
Conclusion 20
Annex: delegate list 22
Endnotes 23

"Social workers need to be able to create responsive support packages and provide effective social work approaches based on best evidence."

Please cite as: Breckon, J. and Hay, J. (2015) Knowing how to protect: using research evidence to prevent harm to children. London: Alliance for Useful Evidence.

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