We are an independent charity that brings science and evidence to bear on policy and practice in children's services to improve the health and development of children and young people.

Read More About Us, Our History, Our Team or Our Partners, The Streams we use for our research and Locations.

Relate Without Pity - in this new publication we report on an Inquiry into how we can all better support young people facing severe and multiple disadvantage, with a particular focus on the importance of relationships

Comment on our blog, read more here, and see the animation here.

Our work focuses on generating the data and evidence that decision-makers need in order to make informed decisions that will improve children’s outcomes across the education, health, social care and criminal justice systems.

Read More about: Data and Analytics, What Works, Service Design, Place-based Reform, Emerging Streams and our Disseminating Activities.

Twenty-One Lessons and Five Investment Opportunities - In this new paper Michael Little reflects on the DSRU’s experience of working closely with forward-looking Trusts, Foundations and Local Authorities to develop major investment strategies

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The Dartington Social Research Unit (DSRU) is an independent charity that brings science and evidence to bear on policy and practice in children's services to improve the health and development of children and young people.

Our team of 26 staff and 12 Associates work across our offices in Dartington, Glasgow and London. 

We shelter the Centre for Social Policy (CSP) with its membership of over 70 respected, retired academics and policy makers. 



Established in 1963, we have a long track record of influencing national policy across social care, health, early years, education and youth justice. Known originally for groundbreaking studies of how these systems operated, over recent decades we have focussed more on advocating for evidence-based prevention and early intervention. 

We have a strong track record of influencing decision-making within local government, charities and philanthropy. We seek out forward-looking charities, local authorities and foundations in the UK and internationally willing to test out innovative approaches to research, policy development, service design and implementation that are grounded in science. We then strive to use our successful innovations to achieve impact at scale. Our 2014-15 Annual Report is here.

Who we work with

Local Authorities

We work with local authorities - as well as health jurisdictions and local communities - to develop evidence-based prevention and early intervention strategies and support system reform efforts (see our Place-based Reform work)

We also draw upon elements of all our work-streams to support local authorities to: assess local needs and the degree to which existing services meet local needs; chart expenditure in children’s services and identify opportunities for effective re-direction of resources; undertake science-based service design; rigorously evaluate the impact of services; monitor the implementation of strategies and services; and provide training to leadership and practitioners on evidence-informed policy-making and service delivery.



We have worked with numerous local authorities and places, including:

  • Birmingham City Council to design a £42m early intervention strategy designed to improve outcomes while at the same time producing financial savings.
  • A growing number of authorities in Scotland, including Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire, Angus, Dundee and North Ayrshire.
  • 19 authorities clustered in 15 places across England as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s ‘A Better Start’ programme.
  • The US cities of Providence (Rhode Island) and Atlanta (Georgia).

Who we work with

Trusts and Foundations:  We work with trusts and foundations that seek to improve children’s outcomes in the UK, Europe and the United States. We help them develop grant-making strategies designed to have a demonstrable impact on children’s outcomes and support the charities they fund to move their work from innovation to proven impact at scale.

Collaborations have included: 

  • The Atlantic Philanthropies to help them structure a €200m investment to improve children's outcomes in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on how to scale what works in the developing world.

We have convened multidisciplinary expert conferences to support the Foundation in thinking about how to scale 'what works' in achieving the Millennium Development Goals on infant mortality and maternal health.


Work with the Big Lottery Fund to support: (a) a £215m investment in five areas of England over a 10-year period to improve outcomes of children aged zero to three years; and (b) a £25m investment to replicate promising and evidence-based interventions designed to reduce the likelihood of children aged eight to 14 years subsequently entering the criminal justice system.

Work with the LankellyChase Foundation to develop a programme of investment designed to tackle severe and multiple disadvantage.

We will soon be turning our focus to supporting progressive philanthropic investments in Europe.

Who we work with

Providers of Children’s Services: We work with providers of children’s services to support them in designing, refining and evaluating their work to improve children’s outcomes. We believe there is an important journey to be made to take a service from an innovation to proven impact at scale.

Our service design methods help providers to design and refine services, to be clear about what is core in determining service effectiveness, and to agree what can be adapted to create demand. We help service providers ensure that their work is replicable, scalable and has an impact on outcomes.

We also work directly with health workers, early years practitioners, teachers, social workers, psychologists and youth justice specialists. We know that the quality of the relationships between practitioner, children and families contribute to child outcomes.


We are beginning to re-visit work that helps practitioners better discern who can most benefit from interactions and available interventions, and are exploring how small changes in existing practices can benefit children and families. Our work with providers of children’s services includes:

  • Realising Ambition. We are supporting 25 youth charities that are part of the Big Lottery Fund's Realising Ambition programme to refine and replicate innovative and evidence-based interventions.
  • Family Nurse Partnership (FNP). We are part of the consortium delivering and scaling-up FNP, an evidence-based home visiting programme for vulnerable first-time young mothers and their babies.
  • Safe Families for Children (SFFC). We are working in partnership to scale SFfC using a Public Social Partnership, an innovative contract between the provider and local authority that commits the purchaser to extend the contract on proof of specified outcomes.





Our staff consists of a team of multidisciplinary trained researchers, spanning psychology, social policy, sociology and criminology. We also run a PhD programme for our researchers, focused on the practical application of high quality evidence in children’s services.

Several of our existing staff have undertaken and completed their PhDs while at the Unit and there will be a new intake in 2016-17; if you are interested in finding out more about working with us, then please email Brian Warren (bwarren@dartington.org.uk).

Staff Trustees Associates Centre for Social Policy Fellows



The Dartington Social Research Unit (DSRU) was founded at King’s College Cambridge in 1963 by Royston Lambert, a distinguished King’s Scholar, to study how children’s services influenced the well-being of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. It moved to Dartington in Devon to become part of the Dartington Hall Trust in 1968, when Royston Lambert was appointed the head of Dartington Hall School. It became an independent charity in 2003.

Over the past 50 years, DSRU has conducted research to improve the provision of children’s services in the youth justice, social care, education, child protection and health systems. The work of the Unit has been key in bringing about the closure of residential centres for delinquent youth, limits on the number of children placed in secure settings, and the provision for more contact between looked after children and their parents.


Our work was also influential in the drafting of the Children Acts in 1989 and 2004, and in child protection policy more generally. We have been an important voice in national debates about investing more resource in evidence-based prevention and early intervention in children’s services, something we have advocated since the Unit was founded in the 1960s.

Our main office remains in Dartington, on a five-acre site by the River Dart, but we also have offices at Somerset House in London and at Robertson House in Glasgow.

The DSRU’s founding director, Royston Lambert, was succeeded by Spencer Millham and Roger Bullock. It is now led by Co-directors Michael Little and Louise Morpeth.




New Wing, Somerset House, Strand,
London, WC2R 1LA

Phone: (01803) 762400
Email: info@dartington.org.uk


Lower Hood Barn, Dartington,
Totnes, TQ9 6AB

Phone: (01803) 762400
Email: info@dartington.org.uk


Robertson House, 152 Bath Street,
Glasgow, G2 4TB

Phone: (01803) 762400
Email: info@dartington.org.uk