A new pilot project devolving budgets to social workers to allow them to find creative solutions to family problems has been broadly viewed as popular by practitioners, despite some initial issues.
The pilots in three local authorities are investigating whether devolved budgets can help safely reduce the likelihood of children and young people being in care. Social workers and their managers in Darlington, Hillingdon and Wigan have been given decision-making control of discretionary budgets to work collaboratively with families for quicker, more tailored responses to family issues.
While there was a feeling across local authorities that the interventions were still “bedding in”, the pilots are showing early signs of promise, and have benefited from broad acceptance from the children’s social care professionals involved. Social workers reported that the devolved budgets allowed them to help families in ways that would otherwise not have been possible, and help them engage families and build stronger relationships.
The pilots have, however, experienced some issues in the early stages. Across all three local authorities there has been a lower than anticipated level of use. This is believed to be due to a number of factors, including cultural issues around confidence spending money, process and procedure and previous experience of operating in constrained financial circumstances. Other factors impacting this include the administrative burden associated with the budgets, and an inability to find suitable families. Social workers also noted issues around fairness and how transparent they could be with the families.
To date, the budgets have been used for a range of purposes:
- Small purchases to build relationships with children, young people and families – meals out, activities, small incentives for good behaviour
- Practical support to improve living conditions, reduce parental and family stress – garage conversion, house cleaning, facilitating a move, providing a car to help parents bring children to medical appointments
- Helping parents build practical skills to increase confidence and reduce sources of stress – driving lessons and cookery classes
- Expedited access to assessment and treatment
There was a keen awareness among social care teams that devolved budgets should not be used to cover gaps left by other services, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
While it is not yet possible to say that the use of devolved budgets can safely reduce the need for children and young people to enter care, the pilots are showing promise. We are looking forward to the final reports, due March 2020.
Read the interim reports: