Today the government has published its implementation plan in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. We know that many frontline workers and decision makers in the sector will welcome some of the ambitious changes included, and be disappointed that some of the recommendations are not immediately being taken forward – and that there will be mixed opinions on some of the reforms. At What Works for Early Intervention and Children’s Social Care, we focus on using evidence to understand what is likely to improve outcomes for children – and the implementation plan includes some promising commitments in this area.
We welcome the ambition that ‘every child and family who needs it will have access to high-quality help’. However, the plan is not clear on exactly what the government mean by ‘good quality family support’, let alone the steps needed to make sure this is available. We should not underestimate the efforts and resources that will be needed to make sure that the strongest and best-evidenced interventions are offered as part of family help.We have known for a long time that high quality, carefully targeted support can help families to stay together, mitigate the impact of stress and adversity, and help children to thrive. Our previous work has found that there are a number of programmes which have shown an impact on abuse and neglect, or on outcomes at the edge of care. Significant resources will be needed to make these more widely available and it is not clear from the implementation plan where this resource will come from.
If we are to achieve the ambition to make high quality help available to families, then it is also important to recognise that there are areas where we currently know too little, and that new work is needed to fill these gaps. The implementation plan does not address the fact that there is limited evidence on what is likely to be most effective in critical areas such as improving outcomes for children in families where there is domestic abuse, neglect or parental substance misuse. Until we tackle this by identifying and developing strong intervention models, the aspiration to make high quality help available to families who need it is likely to elude us.
To make sure that this huge opportunity for change is properly seized, new reforms and interventions should be developed by drawing on the existing evidence base, and be tested before being widely adopted. We welcome the approach of developing tailored and targeted pathfinders for family help and other reforms in 12 local areas. These pathfinders need to include robust pilots and evaluations throughout, with time for reflection and learning before changes are rolled out nationwide. It is important not to start implementing interventions across the country, without first establishing that those interventions work to improve outcomes. A number of the interventions championed by the review – FDAC, (rolled out to ‘every LA who needs one’) Mockingbird, (the ‘evidence-based model Mockingbird’) and Staying Close (legislation for this to be a national entitlement) – are ones that WWEICSC are currently evaluating. It will be important to act on the results of these evaluations and the Government should respond by promoting what is proven to work.
We welcome the proposals in Pillar 6 which aim to improve the infrastructure underpinning the children’s social care system. Providing a clear position about the goals of children’s social care is an important step, and can be achieved through a new National Children’s Social Care Framework. Similarly the move towards developing more consistent metrics for capturing progress against these objectives is useful. We also welcome the commitment to develop Practice Guides which will set out what is most likely to achieve the objectives set by the framework and have been developing advice for DfE on how this might be taken forward. Where there are interventions and practices with causal evidence of improving child outcomes, there is a strong case for investment and action to make these interventions available more widely. New Practice Guides have the potential to significantly strengthen practice in children’s social care and wider early help – if the support and interventions recommended are backed by policy and funding.
It is clear that there is still much to be worked out as we move into the next steps of implementation, and much that we still don’t know. We need to make sure we are filling these gaps as quickly, but as fully, as we can, and that we are using funding and resource to ensure reforms have what they need to succeed. We look forward to working with the government and practitioners to make sure that these changes are implemented in a way which has the greatest chance of success at improving outcomes for children and families.