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Shining a light Volume 3: Children’s Services Essay Collection

Are we valuing care?

Authors: Harvey Gallagher, Colin Green, Steve Kay, Ebony Hughes, Marion Ingram and Mark Owers

I am delighted to introduce ‘Shining a Light’, our third collection of children’s services essays. This edition is themed around a single, topical question for the sector: are we valuing care?

The challenges that councils continue to face in delivering children’s services make for grim reading. Half of England's £8.6 billion children's services annual budget is being spent on our 75,000 children in care, with the other half spent on the 11.7 million children (99.4%) who access other services. The Local Government Association is forecasting a £2 billion funding shortfall by 2020. There is a growing focus on statutory provision, fuelled by austerity, resulting in unprecedented cuts to preventative services. And through it all, children’s services are not seen as a political priority.

It is also clear that the system for placements commissioning is currently failing children in care. With no obvious relationship between a child’s needs, spend and outcomes, the sector is not able to demonstrate progress or value, or understand the kind of provision it needs more of. Practitioners know from experience that stable and well-matched care often makes all the difference, but there is system failure in delivering this at scale. At a time when resources are so precious, the sector must tighten its control of the money spent on children in care to ensure that every pound is making a positive difference. Something therefore needs to change.

Too often I have seen weaknesses in the placement commissioning process, to the point where huge investment decisions are made into a young person’s future, without adequate consideration of what the young person needs, or how the delivery of those important outcomes will be managed. But the solution itself isn’t just one about how placements are purchased and providers managed - it is much more than this, and it needs to start much earlier in the process.

Understanding need is at the heart of iMPOWER’s Valuing Care programme. We are working with a number of councils to strengthen their understanding of their care population, develop their response to sufficiency challenges, and support them to engage the market to help them in this endeavour. What we have found is that there is very little correlation between the level of expenditure and need, and very little evidence of the delivery of outcomes. We have also found real opportunity to do something about it, and a great deal of enthusiasm (amongst providers as well as commissioners, social workers, and young people themselves) for shifting the narrative from one of containing risk and cost to one of value and investment in creating futures.

Olly Swann, Director, iMPOWER