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Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme: Final evaluation report

Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme Evaluation Report 58

Background

In 2011, the Munro review of child protection concluded that the regulatory framework and local structures focused too much on risk avoidance and compliance for there to be effective practice. Munro proposed that there should be more of a focus on national and international evidence to drive practice improvements. In response to McKinsey’s work on features of promising practice systems, the Department for Education’s (DfE) Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme was set up in 2014 to kick start new approaches to deliver significant and sustained improvement. Wave 1 of the programme, saw £110 million invested in 57 projects1. This report provides the overview of the evaluation of the Programme which was undertaken by the Evaluation Coordination Team from the Rees Centre, University of Oxford.

Methodology

The Evaluation Coordination team allocated evaluation teams to projects, reviewed and provided feedback on evaluation plans and draft evaluation reports and supported and challenged the evaluation teams to produce as robust evaluations as possible.

A data checklist was constructed from the measures being used by each project across the programme and was used in the analysis that informs this report. This allowed us to identify opportunities for comparison across projects, to describe and evaluate the initiative as a whole, and to promote the pooling of expertise from across the evaluation teams. The data checklist included 14 hard outcomes, that is, numerical data collected through the local authority or other organisation for administrative purposes and usually measured in a consistent way. It also included 9 soft outcomes which were those on which there is less consistency in use of measures, and which tend to be collected more specifically for the project evaluation, that involved completion (often self-completion) of checklists, questionnaires, interviews or rating scales.

Aims

The aims of Wave 1 of the Innovation Programme were stated as:
• the quality of services increase, so that children who need help from the social care system have better life chances
• local authorities achieve better value for money across children’s social care; and
• there are stronger incentives and mechanisms for innovation, experimentation and replication of successful new approaches

These provide a benchmark against which to consider how far they started to be met, as evidenced by the evaluation of Wave 1 projects.

Key Findings

Quality of services

45 project evaluations reported outcomes in the short timeframe of Wave 1 (10-18 months). Service users, social workers and others interviewed provided their perspectives that services had improved. The quality of services increased in 42 of the 45 projects that reported outcomes in Wave 1, in so far as these outcomes reflected the aims, or service users and social workers’ reported improvements. These outcomes included:

• 24 of the 45 project evaluations reported reductions in children in care, children identified as CIN, children in residential care, increased reunifications with birth families or de-escalation from CIN and/or CP. 6 of the 45 reported negative findings (for example, increases in numbers entering care), five reported mixed findings and 10 did not report on these outcomes
• 14 out of 23 projects that aimed to do so, reported reductions in numbers of children entering care, numbers in care or days spent in care
• 9 out of 31 projects that intended to do so, reported positive improvements in staff knowledge, attitudes and self-efficacy, 6 of the 31 reported increased social worker job satisfaction reflected in reductions in absence rates and/or use of agency staff
• only 4 projects of the 12 that aimed to do so, provided strong evidence of improvements in social worker turnover but all 5 projects that intended to reduce caseloads did so

Evidence from the evaluations suggested that these improvements could be attributed to:

• systemic practice as a theoretical underpinning informing conceptual practice frameworks that translate into engagement in high quality case discussion, that is family-focused, and strengths-based, to build families and/or young people’s capacity to address their own problems more effectively
• social work practices that maximise direct contact with families and young people and are flexible and reflective
• social work supervision by clinicians or consultant social workers
• specialist adult workers (for example mental health, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation (CSE), substance abuse) who provided expert and timely input for families with the most severe problems, and contributed to the multi-professional teams providing a different perspective on managing the risks within the families and shared case reviews
• multi-professional teams, co-located and undertaking assessment and reviews of individual cases to achieve better safety planning
• consistent support to parents and foster carers through one main link person and for young people, key worker support which is young person-centred and high intensity
• in addressing domestic abuse, working with all family members, having one key worker, small caseloads and working with perpetrators all seem to have contributed to better outcomes
• co-design approaches to service development that genuinely enable young people to take responsibility for the services they receive for example, the House Project

The role of multi-professional teams and specialist adult workers appeared to contribute to better outcomes even where the quality of social work practice with families was yet to be judged as better.

Evidence was promising but not yet secure in the timeframe of Wave 1, on the contribution made by specific approaches and interventions such as:

• Family Group Conferencing
• Restorative Practice
• Signs of Safety
• National Implementation Service Programmes