Like most councils across the UK, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s Children’s Services was facing rising demand for its services against a backdrop of budget constraints. The demand was reflected in the number of children in care, which was considerably higher than comparator authorities; more than twice the national average rate per 10,000 of the under-18 population.
The council had already undertaken a programme of work to reduce the numbers of children in care, but knew that it would only take them so far; a system-wide approach to managing demand was needed. Together, the council and iMPOWER embarked on to the next phase of the council’s transformation journey to design a new operating model for early intervention and prevention.
“The work undertaken in partnership with iMPOWER has been transformational in Wolverhampton! We were already on an improvement journey, but the open and creative relationship we developed with iMPOWER, using their experience, demand management methodology and project drive, has meant we have reviewed and re-designed a whole system for early intervention and prevention that should ensure a sustainable, effective, outcome-based model for the future.”
Getting started and methdology
From the outset this was a collaborative project; City of Wolverhampton Council clearly understood what they wanted to achieve and it was iMPOWER’s role to bring a fresh perspective and challenge, expertise, facilitate discussions and build project momentum.
iMPOWER worked with the council to review the impact current early help services were having on those families most in need. Combined with data analysis, the team were able to understand the root causes of children ending up in care and co-design the outline of the new model.
Five project workstreams were established, which enabled Wolverhampton colleagues to lead on and contribute to various elements of designing the detailed new model: the early intervention service design; identifying ways of working; measuring service performance; communications and consultation with stakeholders; and developing a commissioning process for the new services.
The data revealed some key insights:
- 41% of Looked After Children were not previously known to the council
- 52% of all children who became looked after did so after reaching five years of age but only 34% of early help assessments are working with the over fives
- 68% of children became looked after due to abuse or neglect (root cause of demand)
A set of design principles were agreed that went on to be used to develop the new operating model.
The co-designed new model for early intervention and prevention included key features of:
- A new 0-18 family-centred model, working with whole families
- An integrated approach focusing on flexible and responsive interventions
- Resources aligned to local need (through establishing a “service development” role, which will provide data and insight to understand local trends and inform commissioning decisions)
The future service will be managed from eight locality-based ‘Strengthening Families Hubs’ with a much greater focus on community outreach. Strengthening Families Workers will be based at the hubs, building key relationships and working with families before issues escalate. A Specialist Intensive Support Service will be in place for when needs are increasingly challenging and complex and require targeted and flexible support.
It is no use just having a new model on paper; it needs to work in practice. Together we worked on workforce development and how best to empower front line staff to work creatively and innovatively with families through an agreed model of working.
Prior to iMPOWER’s arrival, City of Wolverhampton Council had already started transforming their children’s services. They continue on that journey but, as a result of working with iMPOWER, now know what the new operating model for early intervention will look like, understand how it will work in practice and have political buy-in to make the changes.
The new EH model delivers improved outcomes, secured £2m savings, and acted as a catalyst for broader programme savings of £5.8m in 15/16, and £6.4m in 16/17. It has also contributed to a reduction in the overall Looked After Children numbers; from 802 to 626.
iMPOWER is a values led consultancy dedicated to the reform of the public sector.