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What is the ECHILD project researching?

During the national lockdowns fewer people have been attending A&E, non-emergency surgeries are being delayed, and schools and some nurseries are closed to the majority of children. We are using the ECHILD Database to understand how these kinds of disruptions to services have affected children’s health and education.

Boy smiling in learning environment

The ECHILD project focuses on understanding health and educational outcomes for children and young people with additional needs (sometimes called “vulnerable groups”). This includes children with chronic health issues, receiving special educational needs support, or who are in care. All the information used in the project is anonymous. No individual child can be identified. (There is more about how the data is kept confidential here).

The ECHILD Database covers all of England and it allows us to gain a detailed picture of the challenges that many children face as they grow up. Our results will help government, and the providers of services for these children to better understand their needs and to see who might be falling through the gaps.

The ECHILD Database uses Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) (recorded whenever a person uses a hospital’s services) to categorise different types of vulnerability amongst children and young people.  We then look at hospital use by these children - including planned admissions and visits to A&E - and compare that with use by children not classed as vulnerable. And then we want to know whether any similarities or differences between those groups have been affected by the lockdowns. 

We also want to find out whether delays in surgery or treatments during lockdown could affect children’s health or education in the longer term. We are using the example of children born with a cleft lip or palate and are analysing the number of surgeries that have been delayed because of the pandemic. This will give us an indication of how much extra support might be needed for this group of children to help them do well in school in the future.

Focus on children who require extra support

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The other key set of information in the ECHILD Database comes from The National Pupil Database (NPD).  Having this information is crucial to our research into whether schools being closed to most children during the lockdowns has had a more serious impact on the education of vulnerable children than on those without any particular health or social care need. 
We expect that our results will help health services and policymakers to better understand how best to meet the needs of vulnerable children during a time of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are just some of the areas we have already started work on. Later in 2021 we will use the ECHILD Database to find out how effective support for special educational needs or disability (SEND) is in improving children’s health. SEND provision is not evenly distributed across local authorities in England and the level of provision to individual children has varied over time. So that means we can compare health outcomes for children who have special needs, but who will have received different levels of support or in some cases, none at all. 

Throughout this year, other researchers will be able to apply to use the ECHILD Database to answer more questions that are of benefit to society. 

To help those researchers, as part of the ECHILD project we are also looking at the quality of the ECHILD Database to find out its strengths and limitations. It is vital that as well as knowing what is included in the data, we have a clear understanding of what is missing. For example, if information on school absence is weak, then the database shouldn’t be used to answer research questions related to absence. 

We are talking to young people and parents to find out what they think about the ECHILD Database and the kinds of questions they think future research should address.  More details of how you can get involved are found on our engaging the public page here.

As part of the ECHILD project, we are also looking at:

The quality of the ECHILD Database to find out its strengths and limitations.  Click here to read more.

As part of the ECHILD project, we are also looking at the quality of the ECHILD Database to find out its strengths and limitations. We are looking at the amount of missing information and whether certain groups of children are less likely to have linked records. It is important to understand the quality of the ECHILD Database to make sure it is used sensibly and provides the best possible answer to a research question. For example, if information about absences from school is missing for lots of children, then we couldn’t use the ECHILD Database to answer questions about this topic. We are looking at the quality of the ECHILD Database so that we can be confident that we are asking appropriate questions, and that our results are the best possible answer to that question.

Outcomes for children and young people with additional needs (sometimes called “vulnerable groups”).  Click here to read more.

The ECHILD project focuses on understanding outcomes for children and young people with additional needs (sometimes called “vulnerable groups”). This includes children with chronic health issues, receiving special educational needs support, or who are in care. One of the strengths of the ECHILD Database is that we can build up a more detailed picture of the different types of challenges that children growing up in England face by looking across health, education and social care information at the same time. Then, we can look at how outcomes are different for particular groups of children who have additional, overlapping needs compared to their peers. Our results will help services to understand how well they are supporting children, and who might be falling through the gap.

Outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs or disability (SEND).  Click here to read more.

We will use the ECHILD Database to find out to what extent support for special educational needs or disability (SEND) improves children’s health and how the COVID pandemic has impacted provision. Our methods will use the fact that SEND provision has not been evenly distributed across local authorities and the amount of provision has varied over time. This will make it possible to compare outcomes in children who receive or do not receive SEND provision. We expect our results to help health and education services work better together, for example, to commission SEND provision to maximise benefits for children’s health and education as the UK moves towards a post-COVID recovery. 

In 2021, other researchers will be able to apply to use the ECHILD Database to answer questions that benefit society. Our results will help researchers to decide how they could use the ECHILD Database to benefit us all.

Research ready dataset

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