Assessing the health needs of vulnerable children, are the data fit for purpose?

Sian Evans (Consultant in Public Health at the Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Publication date: 14 September 2012



The purpose of this paper is to assess whether current routinely available population level data are adequate for assessing the health needs of vulnerable children.


The paper presents a review of routinely available population level data relating to 23 vulnerable child groups.


Data were available to measure how many children may be affected locally for seven groups (30 per cent) (looked after children, care leavers, absent or excluded pupils, children in poverty, young offenders, children in need and children assessed to be at risk of social services). Partial data were available for 11 (48 per cent) groups and no data were identified for five (22 per cent) groups. At least one measure of health and well being status was identified for three groups (13 per cent) (care leavers, children assessed to be in need of social services and children assessed to be at risk by social services). For seven groups (30 per cent), a measure of health status was identified for some children in the group. No measure of health status was identified for 13 groups (57 per cent).

Research limitations/implications

The review only considered routinely published data that can be reported for all counties or unitary authorities in England. Although every effort was taken to ensure complete identification, it is still possible that some data sources may have been missed.

Practical implications

The gaps in available data to monitor vulnerable children's health will make the task of ensuring their needs are appropriately represented in local needs assessment and health strategies more difficult. The current service reforms offer an opportunity to address the data gaps.


Data relating to some vulnerable child groups was reviewed in 2006 when a number of recommendations were made. This paper updates and broadens that review and reports on progress made against the 2006 recommendations. The findings of the paper have implications for policy makers and commissioners of children's services.



Evans, S. (2012), "Assessing the health needs of vulnerable children, are the data fit for purpose?", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 117-140.

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