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Evaluation of Birmingham City Council’s Step Down Programme

Report of the Preliminary Findings January 2017

The Step Down Programme is a partnership between Birmingham City Council and Core Assets which started in July 2014 to bring young people out of residential homes into foster placements. It is underpinned by a Social Impact Bond contract, funded by Bridges Ventures, a social investor who wants to make a difference for children and young people. They pay the additional cost of the service on top of the element that Birmingham City Council can meet. Provided the young person stays in a placement for 52 weeks, the social investor receives the payments from Birmingham City Council to cover the cost of the service that they have funded and to generate a return for their investors.

At the start of December 2016, 20 placements had been made via the Step-Down Programme (19 young people as one was placed twice). Thirteen placements were made in year one (Nov 2014-Oct 2015) and seven in year two (Nov 2015 - Oct 2016).

Eight had graduated and six were in current Step Down placements (including two for whom the clock had restarted due to moves within the second six months of their placement). Five placements disrupted before week 14 interviews. One placement disrupted after week 14 interviews.

The data in this report is based on the analysis of the quantitative information collected by Core Assets within the service delivery and 113 interviews with young people, their carers, children's and supervising social workers and the mentors (or support worker when no mentor was appointed). Interviews following placement disruptions were held only with foster carers and social workers.

Main questions addressed in the evaluation

  • What evidence if any, is there that the young person has benefited from the move from residential to foster care? What positive stability and developmental progress can be seen for these young people?
  •  How far has the young person had ownership of the placement decisions?
  •  What have been the most important factors that have supported and/or provided barriers to this transition process?
  •  What recommendations can be made for the future development of the Programme?

Key Findings

There are compelling reasons for suggesting that the quality of a young person’s life might be significantly improved by the successful completion of the Step Down Programme (e.g. what we know about better educational outcomes from foster care compared to residential care).

Cost savings

Within the wider context of improving outcomes, cost savings are also important. An estimate of the cost savings of a 52-week placement for each young person that completes Step Down and does not return to residential care (during or after completion) is in the order of more than £40k per young person, with this typically doubling in the year after. Thus, across the placements to date, we can expect there to have been a saving of over £0.8m whilst the young people have been in the scheme, and a similar amount after graduation to date. However, a fully independent, cost benefit analysis will be undertaken for the final report.Benefits, including stability and developmental progress of the move from residential to foster care.

On average, across the first two years, a 70% stability rate has been achieved across the 20 placements (19 young people). There is evidence that most young people achieved greater stability than they experienced prior to the Programme as indicated by their previous trajectories. There is some evidence of improved school attendance and strong evidence that the frequency of engagement in positive activities increases markedly immediately after placement, though is not always maintained at the initial high level. Across the 19 young people there is no improvement in SDQ scores; five decreased (positive) since they started in the Programme, six increased and four stayed the same. For the remaining four there are as yet, no scores since they began.

The young person’s ownership of the placement decisions

  •  Young people were involved in planning their inductions to various degrees (from actively making plans to agreeing plans drawn up by others). The level of involvement did not appear to impact on the overall outcome of the placement.
  •  Young people were very positive about meeting potential carers but few had been offered more than one alternative.
  •  The role of young people in the progress meetings varied. In some cases, these were planned to accommodate young people but they were not always invited and it was not always clear how their views were represented.
  •  There was evidence of young people having ownership of decisions affecting their day-to-day lives and choosing to leave or remain in placement.

Factors that have supported and/or provided barriers to this transition process

Introduction period

  •  The introductory period gave carers and young people the chance to make more informed decisions about the match and going ahead with the placement. It allowed carers to consider behaviour management strategies before the placement started and young people to move into placements feeling they were wanted.
  •  Receiving information verbally was valued highly and may have led to placements that would not have been agreed on paper. The most common complaint about written information was that it was out of date.
  •  Involving the mentor early was seen as valuable especially in providing continuity for the young person and reassuring them about their ownership of the planning phase but the role of the mentor at this stage had varied and had not always been well understood by other members of the team.
  •  Professionals suggested with hindsight, that it is important to have all practical issues (e.g. school transport, obtaining of a passport) sorted out before the placement commences.

Professional roles and support

  •  Placements were seen to be offering stability and a safe and consistent environment and young people reported feeling safe.
  •  Carers were seen to offer appropriate skills, and more recently to have more knowledge and understanding of the Programme. They were praised for their resilience and ability to manage very challenging behaviour. With the exception of emergency moves, any concerns about carers’ skill levels were expressed after placements had disrupted, (either internally or externally).
  •  Newly approved carers have been used frequently and successfully. Success was linked to carers’ attendance at Attune1 groups and their ability to put training into practice.
  • The role of the mentor in the ongoing placement is very important and often beneficial to the carer as well as the young person. This has obvious implications for placements where there is no mentor.
  •  The therapist role is also important, providing advice and reassurance to carers and helping the team develop a mutual understanding of the young person’s behaviours.
  •  Carers felt well supported and this allowed them to cope with placements they might not have coped with as standard placements.
  • Professionals working together to provide shared solutions to problems
  •  Progress meetings were used differently across placements. Some teams used them much more proactively than others and this was linked to positive outcomes.
  •  Involvement of a consistent local authority social worker who knew the child and ideally their family, was very helpful both in predicting when problems may occur and in identifying progress which allowed the team to praise the young person and build self-esteem.



Supporting the young person

  •  Young people were well supported in placements that offered stability and a safe and consistent environment. The support of the team allowed carers to demonstrate their tenacity to young people and some young people were reported to have remained in placement for longer than they had ever done previously.
  •  Having good relationships and feeling part of the family were linked to young people investing in their placements. Having the team around them could contribute to young people feeling there were people who cared about them and wanted to see them succeed. Along with participation in positive activities, these contributed to building self-esteem and resilience.
  •  Moving school in some cases had negative impact or sometimes was positive (if the school was seen to offer a fresh start) but being out of school was seen as problematic and potentially contributing to placement disruptions. Teams that worked proactively were able to positively influence young peoples’ views about education.
  •  There was mostly good communication with schools and their attendance at progress meetings was seen as positive.



Conclusion

The response to the Programme from those interviewed whatever their role, was generally very positive. Stability of placements has, on average increased, 70% of the 20 placements to date remaining stable. No carers have left the Programme. Young people are engaging in much higher level of activities than they were in their prior residential placements. The Programme was seen to offer individualised support to young people and to support carers well and thus to maintain placements that those interviewed believed would not have worked as standard placements. It is also possible that young people who appear ‘hard to place’ ‘on paper’ are being placed through the Step Down Programme. There is a strong message for fostering services in general about how positive young people were about meeting their carers and moving into a placement in a gradual way.