The council’s Deputy Chief Executive reflects on working with IMPOWER.
IMPOWER’s Valuing Care programme helps councils improve the life chances of children in care 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 in their care, it enables councils to make better decisions on support, placements and commissioning.
We recently spoke to Sarah Baker, Head of Looked After Children at Hertfordshire County Council, to ask about her experience of the programme.
IMPOWER: Thank you for talking to us. Previously, how was the placement process managed in Hertfordshire?
Sarah: In the past, we sometimes gave providers inconsistent Placement Referral Forms (PRFs) which weren’t overseen by the manager and had no commonly understood needs analysis. They were risk-based as opposed to needs-based, and we had inconsistent understanding on the front line of the different ranges and types of support a placement could provide.
IMPOWER: What did you and the management team hope to achieve through the Valuing Care programme?
Sarah: Fundamentally, it was about resolving the problem I have just spoken about, but we also had a list of other aims, including increasing the availability of placements through improved provider engagement and, ultimately, lowering placement breakdown rates and placement costs.
I was also keen for us to introduce a common language and a common way of measuring achievement, as well as establishing a new way of proving the complexity of cases.
Underpinning this was a trusted relationship with IMPOWER who had worked with Hertfordshire previously.
IMPOWER: Who was it most important to involve in the Valuing Care work, and why?
Sarah: Initially, it was critical to get senior leadership engaged on every level, and for the project to be led by positive and proactive senior managers. It was also important for frontline staff to quickly understand the benefits of Valuing Care to help drive through change. As part of this work we were also promoting outcome-led purposeful practice rather than focusing on process-led involvement. The introduction of the Valuing Care approach has supported this change in culture and has given us another means of measuring this.
IMPOWER: What were the most surprising findings from your analysis of placements?
Sarah: That statistically, there was no correlation between spend and need, and that on average the difference in weighted needs score between boys and girls was smaller than anticipated. From a practice perspective, it was fascinating to see that there was a higher measurement of need for the children whose cases were being managed by one regional team compared to another. This created useful discussions as to whether this was due to the particular cases involved, or because of inconsistencies in the way in which we were measuring need.
IMPOWER: How do you think Valuing Care has helped, or will help, change culture?
Sarah: Most importantly, I believe it will help consistency across practice and a greater understanding of how children’s needs impact on placement providers. Valuing Care has taught us how to ensure we are clear about needs, but also about making sure we are positive, and tell the full story about a young person.
Young people in our Children in Care Council told us that they did not like the descriptions of them that we were giving providers. They asked to be given the opportunity to input their own views and opinions into the information that is shared. Valuing Care has given us the tool to do this.
IMPOWER: How do you think Valuing Care has helped, or will help, improve practice?
Sarah: Valuing Care has increased scrutiny of managers through the needs measurement tool which will, in turn, improve practice and create greater consistency. Both managers and social workers are now expected to be more mindful of how we describe young people. The needs measurement tool can be used with a young person to illustrate positive change and build a closer relationship between worker and child. Relationships between workers and providers will also be improved through the introduction of a shared language and way of measuring a child’s changing needs.
IMPOWER: To what extent is Valuing Care helping improve fairness and transparency when organising placements and support for children?
Sarah: To gain access to certain provision, we now have to justify and evidence why we think a young person has a particular need. In the longer term, this will allow us to work more effectively with providers to ensure that these needs are met, and that we, as a team around the child, don’t simply accept placement and containment as ‘good enough’.
IMPOWER: Is Valuing Care helping you think differently about how you support children in Hertfordshire?
Sarah: Valuing Care has helped us become increasingly outcome focussed, rather than driven by process. We now have a bank of up-to-date needs figures which we can use for case management and decision making throughout the review process. The needs measurement tool allows us to challenge when things are not going well, and this can now be evidenced, rather than based on anecdotes.
IMPOWER: What is your experience of working with IMPOWER?
Sarah: Working with IMPOWER has been a pleasure. They have offered very clear and supportive project management throughout, and built up positive working relationships with the project group very quickly. We have received excellent ongoing support, including ensuring that as many front line staff and managers as possible have a working knowledge of Valuing Care. Our pilot cases were completed within tight timescales, and project progression was communicated to senior managers on a regular basis.
IMPOWER: Thank you so much, Sarah.