Last month, the Centre announced a new initiative that will look at and evaluate the potential impacts of devolving budgets and decision-making to social workers and families to help safely reduce the need for care.
The project, called ‘Empowering Social Workers to Reduce the Need for Care’ – one of two DfE-sponsored change initiatives – will involve social workers being given a significant budget to spend with the families they work with and will evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of doing so.
The idea behind the proposal is that by working together, families and social workers are best placed to know what help is needed and how best to safely keep children with their families.
In most cases, we expect the budgets will be used to help meet a variety of everyday needs such as childcare, travel, or home repairs that will make life easier for the family. They might also be used to help families gain quicker access to therapeutic help. However, we also expect social workers and families together to come up with new creative ideas..
This is not necessarily a radical idea, having been trialled elsewhere – notably in adult social care. Many local authorities also use significant ‘section 17’ funds to support a whole range of families. It is also not necessarily without controversy. For instance, it may be that the money is used to pay for family holidays, helping parents and children to take a short-break away from the challenges of daily life, to spend time together and reconnect as loved ones, and to give children the opportunity for new experiences.
If this is what is needed to prevent the child going into care then it would be money well spent, and a significant part of our evaluation will be to analyse the economic case for these and other kinds of budgets.
By enabling social workers and families to create individual and bespoke care plans together and providing straight-forward and quick access to meaningful funds to put those plans into effect, we hope to discover new ways – and provide evidence for existing ways – in which social workers can cost-effectively help to keep children safe and at home with their families where they belong. And that’s an objective that should work for everyone.
There is still time to apply to be involved in either of the initiatives: click here to find out more.
Dr David Wilkins is Assistant Director and Senior Lecturer in Social Work at CASCADE Research Centre, research partner to the What Works Centre