The next step for children's services

Dominic Luscombe asks if the new Data Strategy and Children’s Social Care reform strategy are opportunities to widen our ambition and strengthen our focus on children’s needs.

We may have reached the point where it's too late to say ‘Happy New Year' but I for one am excited about what 2024 has to offer.

We had a busy but productive end to the year. We showcased our Valuing Care work with Derby City Council and Norfolk CC at the National Children and Adult Services Conference, and published a new report following our Valuing Care session at the County Councils Network (CCN) Annual Conference. I've valued the time off over the festive period to reflect on the opportunities for children's services for the year ahead and beyond.

In December, the Department for Education updated its children's social care reform proposals. The update included a Data Strategy and a new Children's Social Care National Framework. By using data on children's needs we can improve outcomes and reduce cost nationally and regionally.

Our joint report with the CCN Valuing Care – Using data to improve children and young people's lives sets out a blueprint for this by demonstrating the impact of using data on needs and cost at scale. Across 3,500 children and young people this report provides an in-depth picture and breakdown of the needs of 4% of England's care population, the connection with cost, and the impact of care on children and young people over time.

Critically, this report shows how this data can be used to affect change. Several councils have already used this intelligence to identify and deliver opportunities to reunite children and young people with their families, and to support children in residential homes to move into family homes. Other local authorities have changed how they engage providers and commission care at an individual child and population level.

Some examples of the impact achieved include:

• Positive changes to care for 45 children and ‘good' savings of £5.8m in Lincolnshire over 18 months

• 11% reduction of the average unit cost for external fostering in Norfolk since 2021

• 14% increase in utilisation of fostering households in Norfolk since 2021

The report highlights the disconnect between children's needs and the cost of their care – the primary drivers of this being market pressures and sufficiency challenges. Our analysis shows that 51% of care expenditure is attributed to just 10% of children, and savings of £800m could be achieved nationally by prioritising the right support for the 7% of children with the highest care costs. It also shows that a third of children in the sample have high levels of needs around emotional health and attachment, while longer periods of time in care further increase levels of need.

In the context of the Government's social care reform agenda we believe this approach could help change how we manage and commission care for children and young people. For example, regional care cooperatives could involve authorities coalescing around shared data on need, cost and provision and using this intelligence to manage the market.

If you would like to get involved in a discussion around how we can use this insight to affect change – please get in touch.

‘Valuing Care could shift practice and culture of practitioners, commissioners and providers with a focus on children's strengths and needs rather than their deficits – locally, regionally and nationally'

Kate Dexter – Assistant Director in Children's Services, Norfolk CC

‘This report illustrates how we could use these data-led approaches at a local, regional and national level, to articulate what we need to the market to get the best care for our children'

Debbie Barnes – Chief Executive, Lincolnshire CC

Dominic Luscombe is Delivery Director at IMPOWER

This article is sponsored content for The MJ


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