14 November 2018
The development team has already made great progress, especially in how it has engaged with the sector, there is a way to go to make the impact we’d like to. Having met with a wide range of sector professionals from many different LAs over the past few months we’ve made important strides in getting the news about the Centre out there in the sector. That said, it is right to wonder what a ‘what works centre’ actually is.
Much of my early work as the Chair has been to engage in the ‘why, what, when and how’ of creating a highly relevant and successful WWC. Our mission is simple in its conception, albeit a little more complex and challenging in its execution.
We aim to establish what works, based on rigorous evidence and research which stands up to scrutiny, and share this with professionals working in children's social care to ensure only policy and practice that works is being used. Our initial target is to merit comparison with the Education Endowment Foundation. To extinguish any flicker of doubt, we're approaching this work with a genuine sense of intellectual curiosity with no preconceptions. At this present time, I tell people we are the "Don't know yet what works centre". This will change of course once we have begun our work in earnest, systematically reviewing existing evidence, identifying any gaps and undertaking our own research, which is being led by our research partner CASCADE.
For example, one, one of our first publications will be a mixed methods systematic review on Signs of Safety’s effectiveness as a system intervention for reducing the need for children to be in care. Whilst it finds no evidence that Signs of Safety does not work, nor does it find compelling evidence that it does. Our first recommendation is therefore that the evidence base for Signs of Safety urgently needs developing, and we will follow-up this work with our own review of Signs of Safety in the New Year, starting with a clear and practicable specification of what high-quality SoS looks like, in order to enable evaluations of the impact of high-quality implementation to take place.
Despite some important academic studies and research being undertaken on children's social care, this has often taken place in disparate places and rarely in a coordinated way – leading to duplication and even contradictions. Nor does it routinely find its way to where it is needed - where professionals throughout the sector can have ready access to it so it’s useful, usable and used. We know that many in our sector don’t see a clear link between local policy and practice and a strong evidence base. One of the Centre’s earlier Twitter polls suggested that only a fraction of Children’s Social Workers believed local practice was informed directly by evidence. I want this to change, and I took this post as Chair of the What Works Centre because I think this new organisation can help to make this change happen.
As a What Works Centre, we are only just beginning our journey. We'll prioritise undertaking research in areas where we know either research evidence doesn't yet exist or where it is thin, and we'll be clear about how we make judgements on standards of evidence. We're soon to launch our Evidence Store where professionals will be able to easily access thematically-arranged evidence syntheses of existing evidence. This will include summary versions for busy professionals, and practical guidance on implementation and costs.
But publishing research – be it reviews or primary research – won't be nearly enough. We'll need to champion the use and dissemination of this evidence too, while also helping to foster an environment where professionals at all levels feel excited and empowered to use this evidence and for it to guide local and national policy and practice. We will also want to test how we can scale up to a wider number of local authorities promising practice and approaches. All the what works centres are on a journey to stimulate an evidence-minded approach in their respective professions. Our approach to this question has been to prototype promising ideas and approaches with LAs to find out what can work. We’ll shortly be piloting and evaluating these approaches, so keep an eye out for developments and sign up to our newsletter.
In twelve months, I am confident that we will be able to proclaim ourselves as the ‘we know some of what works centre'. Even better, would be for the circa thirty thousand children’s social work professionals across the country to know that the Centre is working. I want colleagues from across the sector to have elected to contribute to and engaged in our work.
And in twelve months’ time I want to see the best evidence being increasingly demanded and applied to the work which social workers across the country rightly take so much pride in, for them and the children and families they are dedicated to helping.