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Martin Gray

Valuing Care in Stockton-on-Tees: what have we learned, and where next?

Guest blogpost written by Martin Gray, Director of Children’s Services at Stockton Council

I previously shared our reasons for engaging in IMPOWER’s Valuing Care programme. Now we have come to the end of phase 2 of this programme, it’s time to reflect on what we have gained from our involvement.

Valuing Care offered us the chance to focus more on needs of young people than risks; the chance to understand the links between needs, outcomes and costs and to identify some practical applications of this in our general work.

I’ll cut to the chase on this. Not only have we achieved some real successes and better outcomes for some of our young people, but we think this could save us around £4.2m a year. It is therefore much more than a great concept; it can deliver great outcomes.

Interested? Read on…

Following the introduction to the programme and the initial mapping and audit work, we chose to focus on three main areas: moving some young people from residential to foster care; increasing the capacity of our in-house fostering service; and preventing young people from entering care. The successes so far:

  • Significantly more offers for young people to move from residential care to foster care. Working with independent fostering agencies, we have had 27 expressions of interest for seven young people, and a further two young people matched with in-house fostering. This alone will reduce 20/21 expenditure by £1.1m and 21/22 expenditure by £1m. Repeating the enhanced placement search process could yield further savings of £600,000 in 20/21 and £2.8m in 21/22.
  • Identification of 9 additional in-house foster care placements. Using these in place of independent fostering agencies would save £200,000 in 20/21. Continuing this project to profile the remaining 120 or so fostering households could yield an additional 19 fostering placements and save an extra £400,000.
  • Better outcomes for eight young people on the edge of care. One has had a reduction in the early help support they require, and none have come into care over the course of the project. While further evidence is required to estimate success, delaying entry to care by one month for this cohort equates to a cost avoidance of £1.5m per year.

The work we have carried out has been intensive and fast paced, and our staff and key partners are very positive about it:

‘Finally, an approach that matches the way I work.’ Targeted Services worker, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

‘It’s really useful having a visual of the child’s needs, and from a placements perspective, lots of us easily identify if we have a carer who may have the skills to meet a child’s needs or if it highlights any training needs.’ Independent fostering agency contact

‘The Valuing Care profile gives a real sense of the child. This is a positive and will help carers see the child rather than them being just a list of risks and behaviours.’ Independent fostering agency contact

‘I really like [Valuing Care] because it is so easy to get sidetracked and only focus on the issues and risks.’ Key worker, Independent Residential

In short, I would highly recommend Valuing Care. It’s a fundamental change to the way we work, but is also very practical and outcomes-focused. It is demanding, and will continue to be – we need to maintain the pace and intensity of our work to deliver the benefits we have identified.

We are committed to doing this. It’s right for us, and it’s right for our children and young people.

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