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

Mezey, G., Robinson, F., Campbell, R. , Gillard, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-9686-2232, Macdonald, G., Meyer, D., Bonell, C. & White, S. (2015). Challenges to undertaking randomised trials with looked after children in social care settings. Trials, 16(1), article number 206. doi: 10.1186/s13063-015-0708-z


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.

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.

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.

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.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited.
Publisher Keywords: Trials, Local authorities, Looked after children
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Nursing
SWORD Depositor:
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Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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