Evaluating innovation projects in children’s social care – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Evaluating innovation projects in children’s social care

Date Published: 23 November 2022

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The Department for Education’s (the Department’s) Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme provides a welcome example of a funding programme with evaluation and learning at its centre. The Department has done well to create and sustain this 14-year, £333 million commitment when, as we have previously reported, so much of government activity is not evaluated robustly or indeed at all. However, while evaluation has helped, it is not yet clear that these innovations are delivering widespread improvement at the front line. High quality evaluation takes time and embedding innovations in social care practice remains a challenge, requiring cultural change, a sustained commitment from government, and consistent support from senior leaders in the sector. The Department is having to manage the tensions between understanding what works and meeting the understandable demands for immediate action to improve the lives of children in the care system.

While evaluation can seem expensive, the costs will often be a mere ‘rounding error’ when compared to the scale of mainstream spending they can influence. More can be done to make the case for this in the sector and across government. The Department’s focus on innovation and evaluation has significant potential to guide the more effective use of the £9 billion spent each year on children’s social care. Other departments and HM Treasury should learn from this example.

The Committee will continue to monitor how the Department ensures that opportunities to secure better outcomes created by the Innovation Programme are not lost as its dedicated funding for innovation schemes comes to an end at what is a challenging time for local authority budgets. Evaluation is important but the real test of success will be the roll out of projects which deliver better outcomes for young people.