Children and Families Policy Research Unit


NIHR Children and Families Policy Research Unit


How can we use the community services dataset (CSDS) for research into health visiting?

Responsive Facility: How can we use the community services dataset (CSDS) for research into health visiting? (March 2020 - August 2020)

Research Team

Dr Jenny Woodman, Dr Katie Harron, Professor Jane Barlow


Early interventions for children across the life course and their families


Health visiting is a national service focused on promoting the health and development of young children, and preventing and mitigating the impact of adversity and inequalities in early childhood.

The most promising source of data to build the evidence-base about health visiting in England is the Community Services Dataset (CSDS). The CSDS is child-level longitudinal administrative data from community services (including health visiting) across all of England since 2015, which means that it contains data on health visiting activity for individual children across each child’s preschool period. CSDS captures basic child characteristics, health visiting contacts (type, frequency, length, date) and a wider range of identified needs in children.

CSDS is the only child-level national source of information about health visiting in England but has not yet been used for research. Whilst setting up and establishing CSDS, Public Health England (PHE) has collected ‘interim health visiting service delivery metrics’ ( ‘PHE metrics’). PHE metrics are aggregate data providing information on the proportion of children that received each of the five universal contacts with health visitors each year across England and for each LA.

As CSDS is whole-country, child-level and longitudinal, these data could be used to make an important contribution to the evidence-base about health visiting, facilitating analyses of health visiting activity over a child’s life before school and how this varies according to local area and known needs of the child and family. However, large administrative datasets such as CSDS have limitations as well as strengths and a major challenge can be data inaccuracies and incompleteness. CSDS is a relatively new dataset and PHE is still working on improving its data quality, evidenced by the continued publication of the PHE metrics, which will eventually be replaced by data from CSDS.

The first step to using administrative data sources, such as CSDS, to produce reliable and robust evidence about service activity is to investigate what the data can and can’t tell us, both in terms of what data is collected and in terms of the quality of that data. We need to know if it is complete and if it is accurate. This study investigates the completeness and accuracy of CSDS, using an exemplar question about the delivery of the 2-2.5 year review, to illustrate what the CSDS can and can’t tell us about health visiting activity.

Infographic showing CSDS data completeness 2018-2019

Infographic showing 2-2.5 year health visiting review and vulnerable children 2018-19