The challenge facing children’s services up and down the country is well-documented – demand is rising and budgets are falling. In Norfolk, we’ve got an ambitious £15 million ‘invest to save’ strategy, aimed at getting the right help to children and young people earlier, so that we improve their lives and reduce costs.
Like all authorities, we want to do what we can to help children live safely with their families and reduce the numbers coming into care. However, we can’t do this at the expense of those already in our care. That’s why we adopted Valuing Care, a specific tool developed by consultants IMPOWER, to help us better understand our looked-after children, their needs and their strengths.
As their corporate parents, we want to understand what will make the biggest difference to their lives and find them the placements that can help them to achieve their potential. The average council is spending £26 million per year on children in care. Despite this huge sum of money, we are not always getting the best outcomes for these children.
The Valuing Care tool, which is now fully embedded into our reporting systems, gives us a way of really understanding both individual children and wider groups of children and young people, providing a wealth of information that we can use when commissioning placements and services.
For example, our initial work found that needs around mental and emotional health were particularly prevalent in Norfolk and that children and young people needed more information about their life story – this gives us key areas to consider both when commissioning services and further developing social work practice. The findings also suggested that about 45 per cent of those in residential care – largely boys – could have their needs met in foster care, with the right carers.
We’ve found that, in the past, the need to find safety quickly can mean that a child gets placed in the first available space. The system has been reactive, focused on risk over outcomes, with the cost of placements for children with similar needs differing hugely.
“The need to find safety quickly can mean that a child gets placed in the first available space
Using Valuing Care we can be proactive, influencing the market so that we have the right placements to meet children’s needs and commissioning places based on what we know about our children. It also means we can give our foster carers or partners even more information to help them support children in their care to thrive.
We’re not doing this work in isolation. We have changed our fostering recruitment techniques so that we also better understand who fosters, and target potential carers more effectively. We’re creating an enhanced fostering service so that carers can get the dedicated support they need to look after those with a wider range of needs. We’re also developing in-house, semi-independent accommodation for our care leavers, with 24/7 support on site, as our young people move to independence.
At a time when budgets are under strain, it’s only by thinking differently that we will get the very best for every child in our care.