Funding of local authorities’ children’s services Contents


141.The Government states that “innovative approaches to the design and delivery of children’s services, and enabling the sector to share and spread these, are important to the sector’s financial sustainability”.314 Indeed, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Children and Families told us that “there is a real role for system change through the Innovation Programme”315 and one of the three main pillars of the DfE’s children’s social care reform programme is “delivering a national system of excellent and innovative practice”.316 The Government has largely pushed its innovation agenda through the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, which is backed by over £200 million of Government funding,317 and the new What Works Centre, which is “focused on understanding and evaluating best practice, and spreading this from high-performing LAs to others”.318

142.The Parliamentary Under Secretary for Children and Families told us that there was “some really clever innovation taking place”.319 In particular, he pointed to the success of initiatives by Hertfordshire County Council, Leeds City Council and North Yorkshire County Council whose models are being scaled up to 20 further local authorities with £84 million of Government funding.320

143.We were also told about several other initiatives which were supporting the financial sustainability of local authorities.321 For example, Hampshire County Council has rolled out “mobile laptop devices across all front line children’s social care staff to reduce travel time and enable more flexible working patterns” and is “building the delivery of a new social care case management system that supports a consistent way of working and automates manual activities”.322 Barnardo’s is considering the role of digital solutions:

We are currently partnering with the CareTech Foundation on a £1million project to develop a ground-breaking digital resource to support young people leaving care. In the long term, such apps and technologies can result in earlier identification and intervention, cost savings, and better, more holistic support.323

Box 2: An example of innovation in Hertfordshire County Council

Case study: Family Safeguarding Hertfordshire

With £4.8 million of Government funding, Hertfordshire County Council trialled “a whole-system reform of Children’s Services”, known as Family Safeguarding Hertfordshire (FSH), which “brings together a partnership including the police, health (including mental health), probation and substance misuse services” with children’s social workers. The independent evaluation report found that “multidisciplinary teams are a very promising approach for Children’s Services… there is strong evidence that FSH produces substantial cost savings within Children’s Services even in the first year”. FSH was estimated to result in savings of £2.6 million in the first year “due to reduced care and child protection allocations”: the evaluation report found a 39% reduction in days spent in care, a 29% reduction in child protection plans and an 8.8% reduction in Children in Need cases. It also resulted in cost savings for the NHS and the police:

  • An annual cost saving of £106,824 for the police and criminal justice system due to an estimated 58% annual reduction in repeat police incidents; and
  • An annual cost saving of £220,002 to the NHS due to an estimated 53% annual reduction in adult admissions to A&E.

Source: Family Safeguarding Hertfordshire: Evaluation Report, DfE, July 2017; Family Safeguarding Hertfordshire: Project Summary.

144.However, while innovation in the sector is seen positively by many stakeholders, the Government’s focus on innovation has been criticised for overlooking the delivery of basic services.324 Professor Devine told us that “some of these innovations and early interventions work intensively with individual families and have some effect, but are very costly, are localised and are not necessarily fixing the bigger problem”.325 Children England suggested councils who had received innovation funding had seen a reduction in the number of children in care “not because they have ‘innovated’ specifically, but because they have been awarded the extra investment they need to reduce caseloads, retain and support staff, make time for child-centred practice, and develop good working links with other teams and areas”.326 ADCS acknowledged some innovation had been successful but queried its long-term sustainability:

Some of the projects that received funding in the first wave of the DfE’s Innovation Programme have shown promise, it is not clear if this early success can be sustained in the longer term, particularly beyond the lifespan of the funding. Good children’s services require a relentless focus on getting the basics right; constant demands to innovate are a distraction from the core business.327

145.Yvette Stanley of Ofsted acknowledged that “in order to do the innovation, you need to get your basics right”.328 She explained that Ofsted “are now seeing more local authorities having those basics right and then building from that. The task is to stabilise and ensure the poorer-performing ones are secure, so they can take the learning from those that are further down the journey”.329

146.Notwithstanding concerns raised about the administration of the Innovation Programme in Chapter 1, innovation which not only improves outcomes for children but also enhances financial sustainability is to be embraced. We welcome the Government’s commitment to supporting the expansion of successful initiatives to 20 local authorities. However, we believe that these initiatives should be seen as pilots with successful programmes systematically rolled out to all local authorities with the appropriate long-term support and resources which that would entail.

147.Moreover, we believe that these initiatives should enrich and complement the delivery of good core services: innovation should not be prioritised over getting the basics right. Innovation cannot solely be responsible for delivering sustainable children’s services and must be accompanied by an increase in core funding and the other reforms we propose in this report.

314 MHCLG and DfE (ACS0065)

316 MHCLG and DfE (ACS0065)

317 £200 million to transform life chances of vulnerable young people, DfE, 2 April 2016 and Budget 2018, HM Treasury, 29 October 2018.

318 MHCLG and DfE (ACS0065)

320 Q189, Q200 and Budget 2018, HM Treasury, 29 October 2018.

321 Among others, see West Sussex County Council (ACS0022), Suffolk County Council (ACS0029) and National Youth Agency (ACS0031).

322 Hampshire County Council (ACS0033)

323 Barnardo’s (ACS0032)

324 See Q8–12, Professor Ray Jones (ACS0005) and British Association of Social Workers (ACS0026)

326 Children England (ACS0013)

327 Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ACS0038)

Published: 1 May 2019