Children and Families

Our Children and Families programme supports work to help ensure that the laws and institutions governing family life in the UK are operating in the best interests of children and families.

We have three substantive areas of interest under this programme: child welfare and development; early years education and childcare; and child protection. We also fund work in family law under our Law in Society Programme. We fund several different types of project

Child welfare and development

We are interested in:

  • Exploration of the factors affecting  children’s welfare and cognitive and social development, and the institutional responses that may be appropriate.
  • Child development beyond the early years through to adolescence, particularly adolescent mental health and social and behavioural development, and the factors promoting or delaying successful transitions from formal education to work and productive adult life.
  • Family structures and approaches to parenting – including parental working patterns – and the implications of these for family life and children’s wellbeing.  This includes the formation of new family types, the contribution of inter-parental relationships, the different roles played by biological and social parents, kinship care, and the well-being of children growing up in adverse family conditions.  We are particularly interested in the factors that contribute to effective parenting and the outcomes of children who experience different types of parenting. 
  • Partnership formation and dissolution and the consequences for childhood outcomes, for example   the impact on family resources or the arrangements for child maintenance and parenting. We are particularly keen to ensure there is better information about the contribution that fathers and other co-parents make to parenting, given that they are missing from, or under-represented in, most of the relevant surveys (such as Understanding Society and the birth cohort studies).
Early years education and childcare

Many of our grants in early years are jointly managed with our Education Programme. We are interested in:

  • The quality and cost of childcare provision and the way childcare is best assessed and delivered; the relationship between childcare quality and deprivation; and the role of informal childcare.
  • Development and testing of emerging approaches to improve child outcomes, such as parenting programmes, literacy programmes and approaches to enhance early language development.  We are also interested in the impact of take-up of nursery provision on later outcomes.  
  • The application of emerging (social) science evidence to improve on the design of programmes for very young children (aged 1-3). We want to know whether it is possible to better combine the learning from educational research (e.g. on very early oral language, literacy and numeracy skills development) and social developmental research (e.g. on behaviour management and approaches to ‘self control’) to inform the design and delivery of new programmes to improve child outcomes.
  • Better understanding of why the costs of childcare have risen, and how far this relates only to the price parents pay, or also reflects underlying cost drivers?  We are also interested in international comparisons on the balance of state and private funding, and the operation and regulations of childcare markets.
  • Empirical work to identify which mechanisms (such as quality assessment/inspection regimes, qualifications, curricula, interventions) are most effective in improving quality in the early years workforce; and how these mechanisms are best and most cost-effectively combined for each age group.
  • The extent to which social segregation in early years provision may reinforce social and economic inequalities; and whether more can be done to improve access to, take-up of, and parental engagement with early years education by the most disadvantaged groups in society.  
Child protection

We are interested in:

  • Exploration of issues relating to the child protection system, including adoption, fostering and kinship care. We want to know how well the needs of children growing up in adverse conditions are met by the social services designed to help them, and to identify areas for improvement to protection and placement services for adoption and fostering.
  • Better understanding of the underlying drivers (social, structural and institutional) which affect thenumbers of children in, and on the margins, of the looked-after system.
  • The quality and role of scientific evidence in the practice of children’s social work and opportunities for intervention to improve the use of evidence.
  • The operation and design of the wider system, including the configuration of children’s services; the quality and professional development of the children’s services workforce; and how effective interventions can become embedded or scaled up. 
Types of project

To be considered, projects must help set an agenda in the short or medium term, or have the potential to lead to policy or institutional change. They may draw on a range of research and development approaches.

Many of the projects we fund make use of existing data infrastructure - for example the birth cohort studies and longitudinal household studies such as Understanding Society – to answer questions about social causation. Increasingly these studies are being linked to administrative data, for example data on educational outcomes, or tax and benefit records, and this provides new opportunities for analysis. We are interested in projects that may improve the data infrastructure, including in relation to the outcomes for children in contact with different aspects of children’s services.

We are especially interested in the development and evaluation of interventions to improve child outcomes. Successful applications will follow guidelines for the optimal design of intervention research or implementation research. Applications should consider the pathway from the initial proof of principle study to eventual implementation and dissemination.

We do not make grants for the running costs of voluntary bodies but will consider making a contribution to voluntary sector overheads on funded projects. 

Interested in applying?

For information about submitting an application see our how to apply page.