We’ve previously written about our series of early help learning sessions (here and here), where a small group of local authorities come together periodically to share experiences and challenge each other. At the last session the group expressed an interest in hearing what other local authorities were doing with regards to commissioning their services and managing their budgets in early help. On the 19th March representatives from six local authorities met at our office to discuss their current budget concerns and innovative solutions.
It is common knowledge that an effective early help offer is necessary to managing demand and providing community support; however a primary area of discussion amongst the group was the service’s ability to evidence that their interventions are making a difference. Making the case for increased funding in early help is simple in theory; however the attending authorities shared their concerns that with ever decreasing budgets, larger pools of funds are being allocated to those services that are able to prove with data that their interventions are valuable for the council. It can often be hard to prove this using data in early help as the service is designed around principles of prevention. The question the group came to was; is it worth allocating funds, time and resources to collect the necessary data or is it best to think innovatively about how money can be obtained elsewhere?
In the current economic climate, innovative, cost effective solutions are rare and valuable. I would suggest that local authorities need to look at engaging alternative providers in discussions. In Birmingham for example they were able to encourage the housing department to provide them with funding by encouraging their participation in elements of their Early Help programme. Another interesting idea that we explored was that children’s services should look to design alternative budget models based on successful healthcare and adult social care models. For example, personal health budgets – social workers would be given a small budget and could choose how to best spend the money to meet the needs of the child under their supervision.
We’ll be maintaining the group and adding local authorities to it so if you would like to be involved in our next Early Help Learning Session, where we will discuss partnership working in early help, then please contact either myself or my colleague David Colbear directly.
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