The message is clear
Over the last four years we’ve engaged with over a thousand practitioners, commissioners, providers, children and families. Bringing a child into care is the most important intervention the state can ever make in a child’s life. Yet despite this, the experience of most children and young people in care is not a life-enhancing one. The outcomes narrative is well documented, and as a country we simply need to do more.
IMPOWER’s Valuing Care approach was originally devised to do just that – help councils to improve the life chances of children in care by strengthening the links between children’s needs, the outcomes being pursued, and the resources available. Councils and partners we’ve worked with have since extended the approach across the child’s journey, as a key part of preventative offers designed to strengthen family resilience. This showcases the innovation and ambition of the sector.
The triangulation of need with cost and outcomes is a relationship that defines and delivers real value – ensuring that spending goes to where it matters most to achieve better outcomes for children and young people, and delivering sustainable cost reductions in the longer term.
From containment to ambition
There are so many people, agencies, forms, and systems involved in the journey to a child’s placement, and a lack of consistent language and understanding between them. Because of this, young people are often reduced to a label or a level of risk, rather than being understood as individuals with needs.
When it comes to care, ‘success’ is simply finding a placement and containing risk, at any cost. This approach isn’t cost effective, and more importantly, there’s little chance of long-term happiness. Children and young people can only thrive if they’re supported as individuals, with a support package that’s tailored to their personal needs.
Time to talk
The debate surrounding the optimum model of care is not a new one. Regardless of the latest inspection-framing or well-intended improvement initiatives, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for delivering effective and sustainable children’s social care.
Collaboration is key to understanding individual requirements. And without a consistent two-way conversation with each child, there’s no fair or compassionate way to monitor progress. How can children’s services showcase what’s being achieved and demonstrate effective spending?
Money where it matters most
Our research shows that the link between children’s needs and council spending is weak, and money isn’t being invested where it’s needed. Increased spend is a way of coping with increased demand, but it is proving unsustainable and the cost of care for councils is often disproportionate to the number of children being looked after. These spend and demand challenges existed pre- Covid-19, but have been exacerbated as a result of it.
Data source: LGA forecast of spend growth on children’s services, submission to Spending Review 2021 (validated financial outrun figures are not available for 20/21).
There’s no correlation between the needs of children and young people, the outcomes they achieve, or the investments made. And while more money and resources are being directed towards the problem, it is unsustainable, and doesn’t solve the challenges faced by the wider system or address the pressures of rising demand within it.
It’s an unfair and unsustainable approach for all involved, and vital opportunities to improve lives are being missed. Something needs to change.