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Olly Swann

Why the narrative on children’s services needs to change

Last week’s Spending Review announcement provided something of a proverbial crutch for children’s services, but offered few reassurances for the medium to long-term sustainability of what many see as the most important state function of them all. Failing to invest in young people and families who need support is just storing up more costly problems for the future, yet that message doesn’t appear to be getting through to central government.

We are proud to have partnered with NLGN on this important and timely report, ‘From Tiny Acorns: Communities shaping the future of children’s services’, which sets out a strategic response to the current challenges alongside a series of recommendations for practical change at national and local levels.  The report includes some fascinating insights and evidence from local authorities and Directors of Children’s Services from across the country, and sets out an ambitious call for policy change that could empower a more united approach to delivering improved outcomes for children in the future.

Whole system change is long overdue, and the report provides some clear ideas for reframing the current delivery model, covering what the system does, how it does it, and the potential role of families and communities within it.  A genuine transformation and cultural shift is required, and it is clear that central Government must provide the catalyst for that shift.

The socio-economic factors that drive demand in children’s services are as broad as they are unpredictable. Variance is a red herring, and one that clearly does not interest HM Treasury. What is more important is that local authorities can offer a consistent narrative regarding value, and demonstrable impacts in the form of cost and outcomes from every pound spent.

This is the rationale behind IMPOWER’s Valuing Care programme, and behind our extension of the approach into Special Educational Needs & Disabilities. By better capturing and reviewing the needs of children and young people, and by assessing value and tracking outcomes, we are enabling councils to make much better decisions on support and commissioning.

Our work with numerous children’s social care departments has proved that when services and interventions are focused on genuine and evidenced needs within families and communities, demand can be managed more effectively. By adopting approaches that can match those needs to the outcomes that each child can achieve, and the resources invested in them, we can define and understand value across the system.

Whilst a funding shortfall is absolutely part of the problem, local government and the Department for Education now have to strengthen the argument for more funding from HM Treasury by demonstrating a much deeper understanding of how money is currently spent, and by proving what difference it makes. By developing a more systematic understanding of demand and value, we can ensure the future sustainability of children’s services – one which puts the needs of children and families back at its heart, and by engaging the wide range of untapped community assets and resources to achieve the very best outcomes.

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