The Time Is Ripe for Evidence-Based Child Policy in the UK


(Open Policy Making)

A boy playing with Cuisenaire rods

Photo by dbphotographer/iStock

by Barbara Janta

November 20, 2014

Nov. 20th marks the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This Convention is the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. This unprecedented acceptance of the UNCRC clearly shows a wide global commitment to advancing children's rights. The Convention demands that children be treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights, rather than as passive objects of care and charity.

This anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made and the challenges that remain. Even in the UK there are still children who live in poverty and inequality, who experience violence, and who are not afforded rights on par with their peers.

To help identify the best child-friendly policies and to share evidence-based information about what works to improve the lives of children, families and communities, the EC Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion has established the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC). The RAND Corporation has been commissioned to provide content and technical support to this online platform.

The EPIC project is one contribution from the EU to the increasing need for evidence-based policymaking, represented in the UK by the What Works network of organisations which produce research and resources for policymakers on effective interventions in the social research fields, including Early Intervention.

The EPIC website provides policymakers with reliable and effective examples of interventions to inform decisions, at the same time providing confidence for policymakers that limited resources have been allocated to practices known to be effective.

The demand for information about what works in the field of child and family services has grown as budgets have tightened and accountability has increased. In the EU, EPIC provides information on policies and practices that have been successful in helping children and families deal with a harsh economic climate. As an interactive platform, the 'Practices that Work' section of the EPIC website provides a database of practices and programmes that have been implemented successfully in EU Member States. The Evidence-Based Practices section features practices that have demonstrated their effectiveness through scientific research. EPIC applies a rigorous evaluation framework meeting scientific standards of transparency and replicability. The framework comprises quality criteria assessing evidence of effectiveness, transferability and sustainability supporting each practice.

Table 1. The EPIC evaluation criteria

Evidence of effectiveness Does the practice have a solid foundation of supporting evidence?
Transferability Can the practice be replicated elsewhere?
Sustainability Does the practice bring about long-term benefits?

EPIC's fully searchable database provides examples of practices from EU countries targeted at different populations and age groups. For instance, the UK's additions to this section include the Incredible Years programme, a Risk Watch programme, and a Stop Smoking at Schools practice.

The success of the EPIC project largely depends on user interactions, including the sharing of experiences and the promotion of effective and promising practices. In line with the conception of the EPIC as an interactive platform, policymakers and practitioners are encouraged to register child-focused practices that they are developing or implementing in the website's Practice User Registry, in order to share knowledge. The Registry enables cross-regional learning and includes over 120 practices that can be searched by name, topic or country. The number of practices will continue to grow, thus reinforcing the evidence base for policy formation and practitioner decisionmaking. In this way, the EPIC platform provides a model for engaging stakeholders in the dissemination of learning about ‘what works', and this, in turn, brings benefits to practitioners, policymakers and society as a whole. Engagement with the EPIC interactive platform also provides the means to promote a culture of evaluation across the Member States, and presents a transparent approach to appraising evidence in support of individual policies.

The occasion of the UNCRC's 25th anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made over the past quarter century toward protecting and enhancing the rights of children around the globe. It is also an opportunity ask what more can be done.

Barbara Janta is an analyst in the Education, Employment and Social Policy team at RAND Europe.

This commentary originally appeared on Open Policy Making on November 20, 2014. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.