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Evaluation of better by design: A report for Achieving for Children

Achieving for Children (AfC) is a social enterprise company created by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames to provide their children's services.

In 2015, AfC successfully bid for one year of funding from the Department for Education (DfE) Children’s Social Services Innovation Programme. The funding was for AfC to deliver and evaluate a project called Better by Design (BBD).

BBD is a new project, developed by AfC in collaboration with the University of Birmingham. BBD comprises a different way of working with young people who present particularly challenging behaviours. It combines social learning principles with collaborative problem solving approaches, in order to build the skills and capabilities of young people in care, or on the edge of care. The aim is for them to manage their own challenges, difficulties and relationships in a different and more constructive way, and thereby improve their behaviours and the way they relate to others.

Key innovations of the project are:

• Recruitment of ‘Innovation Family Workers’. A new team of Innovation Family Workers has been recruited for BBD, specifically without social care experience or social work qualifications but with strong inter-relational skills.
• New ‘Innovation Mentors’: the BBD project involves recruiting specialist foster carers known as ‘Innovation Mentors’ who are trained in BBD by AfC.
• Migrate young people in out-of-borough residential care back to in-borough Innovation Mentors via a ‘residential hub’. This residential short-stay setting is home to the young people for around 8 weeks. During this time the Innovation Family Workers introduce the young people to BBD approaches and prepare them for life with their new Innovation Mentor.
• Work with young people (and their families or care givers) on the edge of care to keep them from entering care: The aim is to improve the way young people and their primary care givers engage and interact at home. This is so that the young people can remain in a home setting, if it is safe to do so

As this project is innovative, the DfE, alongside AfC, commissioned Frontier Economics and Ipsos MORI to carry out an independent evaluation of the implementation of the programme (a ‘process’ evaluation) and an evaluation of outcomes for young people (an ‘impact’ evaluation).

A total of 18 young people participated in the BBD programme over the period April 2015 to February 2016. This includes three young people who have migrated from residential care outside of the borough to the new short-stay residential hub, and Innovation Family Workers started to work alongside 15 young people who are considered to be on the edge of care. The number of young people participating in BBD is small due to the significant challenges associated with designing, delivering and evaluating the impacts of a large innovative programme involving young people with challenging behaviours, in less than ten months. At this stage, we cannot therefore deliver an evaluation of the impact of BBD on outcomes of young people as this would be neither robust (too few young people for conclusions to be drawn) nor ethical (it would be too difficult to protect the anonymity of the young people with such small sample sizes).

This report therefore focuses on highlighting important learning points about what has worked well and what has not as part of the process evaluation. It also provides an initial (although partial) assessment of the financial cost of the BBD programme compared to the likely costs of looking after, or working alongside, the young people in the absence of BBD. It is important that the evaluation continues so that outcomes for the young people can be monitored.