In the green paper on children in care published on 9 October, the government proposes extending the piloting of the budget-holding lead professional role, to specifically test the model in relation to buying goods and commissioning services for children in care.
The pilots would devolve differing amounts of money to lead professionals – which in the case of children in care would be likely to be social workers – to give them the purchasing power and flexibility to put together packages of individualised support.
NCB chief executive Paul Ennals insists that different levels of budget-holding for children in care must be piloted.
“The argument for piloting a limited budget is very strong,” he says. “The next stage of allocating a budget to a lead professional, for example to buy therapeutic services, carries some challenges but needs to be piloted too.”
Devon is about to test the budget-holding lead professional concept in nine pathfinder areas based around secondary schools and their feeder primaries, which have already spent a year working on developing multi-agency teams and implementing the Common Assessment Framework. It is one of 15 budget-holding lead professional pilots launched in July to test the model with core groups of children.
“When the opportunity for budget-holding lead professionals came along, we thought that would be a good way of enhancing delivery so lead professionals working in communities would be able to directly access funding to meet local needs,” explains John Shaw, lead officer for joint agency services at Devon children’s and young peoples services.
Each of the pathfinders will have £15,000 per year for the two-year pilot. Lead professionals in the nine areas will be able to immediately sign off or access up to £100. “For example, if there was a young person who needed to attend a club like Brownies but didn’t have a uniform, they would be able to access the money to buy it for them in a non-stigmatising way,” Shaw says.
For requests over £100 and up to £1,000, money will be allocated through a local process via pathway co-ordinators.
“That would be for anything you can think of. It might include elements of respite care.
“The whole idea of budget-holding is to be more direct, more immediate. We are not looking at thresholds but access points, as determined by the common assessment process. If the outcome of an assessment was suggesting a prevention plan that needed some resource behind it, then the local team would have access to the funding locally in their community.”
Shaw says that although the Devon pilot will neither exclude nor specifically target children in care, he can see how the model could be developed to really help local authorities in establishing a sense of parenting in relation to this group of children.
“If you think around the fact that what parents can do is access support or provide support for young people then what you need to do is look at how you can support children in care with really truly personalised services that maybe are more accessible, more local, more immediate.
“One of the objectives is to empower social workers and support workers of children in care to provide that level of support. Being able to have the access to certain levels of finance is critical in that.”
The green paper’s proposals would entail changes to training programmes for all who come into contact with children in care, not just social workers. Those cited in the paper include:
• Better training for a range of professionals, including paediatrics and further education principals, on how to work with children in care
• A national qualifications framework for foster and residential carers including specialist modules on working with disabled children, caring for unaccompanied asylum seeking children, meeting children’s physical and mental health needs, and teaching young people life skills
• A new foundation degree in working with children in care, with successful students attaining the status of ‘children in care expert practitioner’
• Inclusion of material on supporting children in care in early years settings in the Early Years Foundation stage guidance
• A training module for governors on how schools should cater for children in care.