How the independent review of children’s social care can lead to a ‘radical reset’ for a vital support system
EIF director of policy & practice Donna Molloy picks out three highlights from the report of the independent review of children's social care, published today. Across service transformation, workforce development and a new push on evidence and outcomes, Donna picks out proposals that are "bold, visionary, and high-potential".
The final report of the independent review of children’s social care is detailed and wide-ranging, and undoubtedly there is much analysis and debate to come. On a first reading, however, three key elements leap out as offering the potential to fundamentally reshape the way families and children receive support in England over the years to come.
Achieving ‘a revolution in family help’
The care review calls for a ‘new, single offer of family help’, with increased resources for multidisciplinary teams providing tailored, practical and skilled help based in community settings. This feels like overdue recognition of the value of family support and a pivotal moment in its evolution as a mainstream service. We have long been aware of the potential positive impact of high-quality, tailored support for families, and there is clear evidence that providing a continuum of evidence-based family interventions that are able to address multiple levels of need can achieve population-wide benefits.
Combining targeted early help support and work to support a child in need under the umbrella of a single offer feels important, both in terms of bringing national policy into line with the reality on the ground, and ensuring that families with a child identified as a child in need get the consistent support they need to thrive.
Also important is the emphasis on contributions from partners. Deploying, for example, mental health or substance misuse practitioners in multidisciplinary family help teams, and pooling resources to commission proven programmes, could provide an opportunity to better align the support offered to families at the local level and significantly reduce the complexity of the local service landscape.
Central support and leadership for the family support workforce
The recommendations on family help, if followed through, could bring new policy attention to supporting the practice of the family support workforce. For many years, family intervention projects or services were championed as the solution to the lack of direct help for families that is highlighted in the review. These schemes provided keyworkers who were unconstrained by agency boundaries, with low caseloads and enough time to understand the needs and wishes of the family and to focus on delivering direct help as well as coordinating other agencies as needed. This keyworker-led model of family support has been promoted centrally through the Troubled Families / Supporting Families programme, yet has felt separate from wider policy on children and families in the Department for Education.
The recommendation that the DfE should have policy ownership of the whole family support workforce is a potential game-changer. The review clearly recognises the value of this kind of relationship-based family support. It recognises that professionals need the time and resources to build strong and trusting relationships with children and families. It also recognises the need to support the workforce: to build capacity and expertise so that practitioners have the best chance of making a difference.
Yet the lack of central support for the family support workforce has been in stark contrast to the architecture around social work. New central support to develop the knowledge and skills of family support practitioners could strengthen these ways of working and embed them across the family support and social work workforces.
A new national framework underpinned by evidence
The review’s proposal for a new National Children’s Social Care Framework to set objectives and outcomes across family help and children’s social care feels like a crucial step forward. Setting clear objectives and outcomes can be difficult to resolve locally. In our work to support local services we see a lack of clarity or consensus on what outcomes a programme or service is aiming to achieve or how to measure them. This inevitably leads to people all doing different things; as a result, it can be difficult to understand what good looks like or to compare results to see which areas are doing well, or which approaches are working best.
We are also pleased to see the emphasis on the use of the best-evidenced interventions to achieve outcomes in family help and children’s social care. The report we have published today has found that there are a number of programmes which have either shown an impact on abuse and neglect or on outcomes at the edge of care.
We know there is often a gap between what the evidence tells us is effective and what is delivered. If we want to strengthen family help, our view is that these programmes are some of our ‘best bets’. While there are too many areas where there is insufficient evidence to guide practice, where there is good evidence, we should be using this to make better links between families’ needs, the services available, and the outcomes that can be expected.
Of course, evidence-based programmes are just one element of a strong local offer of support for families, but they make an important contribution. Crucially, as well as providing benefits to individual participants, they are a route towards strengthening practice. Future work to increase the availability of some of the best-evidenced approaches – for example, via the new national framework – presents an important opportunity to develop the role of evidence-based programmes as part of a strong local offer.
The direction on family help set out today by the review team is bold, visionary, and high-potential. We strongly support the proposals.
We also recognise the implementation challenges ahead. This is no less than a roadmap for service transformation. Its ambition needs to be matched by equal ambition within the DfE, leading to focused, sustained and well-resourced central support for the implementation of the recommendations. Let’s make sure we truly seize this ‘once in a generation opportunity’.