Children and young people in care achieve their best outcomes when Children’s Services Departments tailor support to meet each individual’s unique needs. However, iMPOWER’s analysis has shown that the links between needs and spending levels are weak, and there is often no evidence that the best outcome has been delivered. While this is clearly not intentional, social workers, professionals and service providers have no shared language to describe the complex requirements of children and young people in care, and without a true understanding of needs, some children are left with no carers or placements. A new approach is needed.
iMPOWER’s Valuing Care programme helps councils to improve the life chances of children in care – or looked after children – by strengthening the links between children’s needs, the outcomes being pursued, and the resources available. By better capturing and reviewing the needs of looked after children, councils can make better decisions on support, placements and commissioning.
The chart below maps the weekly placement cost of every child in one council’s care against the needs of the individual child or young person. We developed the iMPOWER iNDEX using a range of indicators to assess needs, and worked with the council to weight them so that social workers were confident that the outcomes authentically reflected each child.
The chart shows that there was no correlation between costs and needs, and that while some children with low needs had expensive support packages, other children with much greater needs had less expensive support.
By mapping all children in this way, social workers were able to understand and change some of the assumptions and decisions that they had taken.
Our Valuing Care approach enables councils to bring greater transparency and fairness to the way resources are used by their Children’s Services Departments. This improves the life chances of children in care and ensures that every pound spent makes a positive difference.
Valuing Care enables councils to:
- Assess, analyse and consistently codify the needs of children and young people in care
- Show patterns of need by prevalence and complexity
- Understand how resources are currently used to meet these needs
- Identify actions to reduce cost without harming outcomes
- Develop a commissioning approach and tools that support a targeted allocation of resources, linked to needs and a demonstration of outcomes
- Review and strengthen their Sufficiency Strategy based on evidence of need, and develop a clear action plan to deliver it
- Work with a range of stakeholders including social workers, commissioning, finance and providers to strengthen placement decisions and improve their outcomes
- Provide a new footing for provider relationships, helping to re-shape the market
- Apply behavioural insight to support the required change in culture.
“Valuing care gives us a tool to describe and quantify need. It looks across the whole child rather than focusing on particular, usually narrow, areas of risk. It will, over time, help us evidence reduced need, hopefully across all our outcome domains.
“It’s a great tool for our social workers to think about, and record, the needs of their children and we are starting to run reports which give us a ‘needs profile’ across our care population, something we have never been able to do – relying instead on anecdote about complexity. We also anticipate that it will lead to new conversations with children and young people, with our own foster carers and with independent providers.”
Marion Ingram, Operations Director Specialist Services, Hertfordshire County Council
“Through this project we’ve seen the importance of changing the way that social workers, commissioners and providers think about and approach providing care and support to children and young people. The tools and methodology developed through Valuing Care give us the means to capture and use intelligence about our children in a different way.
“But what really made the difference was us challenging ourselves to think differently about care placements and support. It is helping us to put the focus fully on the child and their outcomes, needs and life chances in a way that transcends our ‘day jobs’ as social workers, commissioners and providers and procedural boundaries. This is a change that we have witnessed at all levels of the organisation – from frontline officers to senior managers.”
Sue Harrison, Director of Children’s Services, Central Bedfordshire Council
Valuing Care - information for providers
A new approach to care placements can only be successful if it draws on the knowledge and experience of providers
We recognise that many providers have already established systems for needs assessment, allocation of support, and measuring outcomes. However, we believe that unless such an approach is applied universally, the impact will be limited – there will continue to be children and young people who cannot be placed, and sub-optimal placement decisions being taken. Local authorities must address this, and most importantly, they must work with providers to do so.
This isn’t about reducing prices; it is about improving the matching of placements, reshaping the market to meet need, and enabling both providers and commissioners to increase the positive impact of achieving outcomes.
Valuing Care has several specific benefits for providers:
- Increases local authorities’ appreciation of the important role of providers in determining life outcomes
- Improves information on and understanding of a child at the point of placement decisions, enabling better matching, initial support, and informed pricing discussions
- Improves balance in initial assessments of a child, beyond presenting risk
- Helps strengthen relationships with commissioners, beyond what procurement solutions enable, giving access to information that supports providers with strategic planning and development of provision
- Provides an opportunity to explore new models of working with authorities, which could lead to reduced provider risk
- Provides an opportunity to learn ‘what works’ more broadly across the sector.
Provider participation is a vital part of the Valuing Care programme and we would welcome your feedback and involvement. To get involved or share your views, please contact us.
Valuing Care brochure
A broken market
Olly Swann, The MJ, 9 August 2017