Challenges to undertaking randomised trials with looked after children in social care settings

Gillian Mezey*, Fiona Robinson, Rona Campbell, Steve Gillard, Geraldine Macdonald, Deborah Meyer, Chris Bonell, Sarah White

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
1907 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are widely viewed as the gold standard for assessing effectiveness in health research; however many researchers and practitioners believe that RCTs are inappropriate and un-doable in social care settings, particularly in relation to looked after children. The aim of this article is to describe the challenges faced in conducting a pilot study and phase II RCT of a peer mentoring intervention to reduce teenage pregnancy in looked after children in a social care setting.

Methods: Interviews were undertaken with social care professionals and looked after children, and a survey conducted with looked after children, to establish the feasibility and acceptability of the intervention and research design.

Results: Barriers to recruitment and in managing the intervention were identified, including social workers acting as informal gatekeepers; social workers concerns and misconceptions about the recruitment criteria and the need for and purpose of randomisation; resource limitations, which made it difficult to prioritise research over other demands on their time and difficulties in engaging and retaining looked after children in the study.

Conclusions: The relative absence of a research infrastructure and culture in social care and the lack of research support funding available for social care agencies, compared to health organisations, has implications for increasing evidence-based practice in social care settings, particularly in this very vulnerable group of young people.

Original languageEnglish
Article number206
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 07 May 2015


  • Trials
  • Local authorities
  • Looked after children
  • WORK

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