Back in 2018 we recognised the need for a different approach to meeting the needs of our looked after children. We wanted to be ambitious and aspirational for our children. In practice we found it difficult to understand and capture children’s needs and strengths consistently. We also noticed that the system had a bias towards focusing on children’s risks, behaviours and deficits rather than their needs, strengths and interests.
As part of our response to these challenges we started work with IMPOWER to implement and apply Valuing Care – an approach which allows holistic needs and strengths to be consistently assessed and understood by practitioners, children and families, tracked over time and used to get the right support in place.
Fast forward four years and I was delighted to share our story at a shared learning event hosted by IMPOWER and chaired by my colleague Jenny Coles in July 2022. The focus of this session was on different approaches LAs and partners have taken to improving outcomes for children. It was a great chance to reflect on our story and the progress we have made since we started this work:
- We started small – and rolled out at pace: Our starting point was completing Valuing Care for a sample of 244 children in our care. This allowed us to compare the needs of children and the cost/ type of their provision, unearthed some immediate opportunities to improve support and provided a really clear ‘proof of concept’. We quickly rolled out and embedded Valuing Care across all looked after children and across the assess, plan, do review cycle. This has driven significant improvements in outcomes, costs and sufficiency.
- Our intelligence on needs is driving our sufficiency strategy and commissioning: Valuing Care is completed for every looked after child at regular intervals. This gives us a rich picture of the needs of our looked after children, how these are changing over time and a breakdown by cohort, demography, age, gender and placement type. For example, this intelligence has allowed us to develop and tailor support to meet the needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
- We have changed how we work with providers: Valuing Care assessments now inform the payments made for all placements, with payments relating solely to levels of need. This is helping us to improve the value and impact of our placements and we have also noticed a shift in culture and behaviour with much more attention on needs and strengths versus behaviour and risks. This is also increasing our sufficiency in a challenging care market.
- This approach has helped us to strengthen and improve our fostering service: As a result of this approach more carers are prepared to care for a wider range of children (e.g. adolescents, children with disabilities) and foster carer utilisation has increased by 14% as a result. We have also developed a carer confidence and capacity tool which allows us to match children’s needs to carers skills and experience – this has driven improvements to recruitment, matching and development.
- This approach has helped us to positively impact children’s lives: Practitioners and teams are using Valuing Care to identify opportunities to improve support provided to children which in turn improves outcomes and life chances. For example, we have used Valuing Care to identify and accelerate opportunities to safely reunify children with families, and to give children living in residential accommodation the chance to move into family placements.
We will continue to make children’s needs and strengths the focus of our work in Norfolk. One of the most pleasing parts of this work has been feedback from children and young people themselves. Many have welcomed an approach which puts the emphasis on their needs, strengths and aspirations in the ‘here and now’ rather than professional discussion of their ‘case history’. This feels like the right focus for Norfolk and for the wider sector.