This week we begin a series of debate articles for consideration by the Munro Review of child protection services. The first, by senior interim manager and consultant Nick Berbiers, proposes an outcomes measurement framework for children’s services
Performance management has its place in children’s services, but current performance indicators essentially measure activity, not outcome. By outcome I mean what the intervention and service actually did for the child and their family or caregivers.
Achieving a positive outcome for children is the whole purpose of children’s services. Isn’t it time we introduced a system that seeks to measure it?
Let us first confront the elephant in the room when it comes to outcome measurement: subjectivity. There are only two ways to deal with it: either devise an incredibly complex system attempting to factor in the myriad complexities of subjectivity, or keep it simple. I prefer simplicity.
What should the measure be?
I propose red, amber and green thumbs. I’m not wedded to thumbs if anyone suggests something better, but it is simple and universal in our culture. Red would correspond with “no”, amber “the same” and green “yes”.
Who should we ask?
I propose the following “involved persons”:
● Children aged five and over. In terms of communication, five feels right.
● Parents; family/kinship carers; foster carers; adoptive parents.
● Teachers; health visitors; GPs.
● Other involved professionals such as therapists and family aides.
What should we ask?
Working groups of the involved persons should be set up to devise a set of questions: simple and straightforward questions ought to be the aim. For example, we might ask a child/young person whether they feel their life had improved in the previous year. We might ask a teacher whether a young person’s educational attainment has improved.
Which organisations should participate?
The system should be mandatory for all local authority children’s services departments. However, I would propose an opt-in for other children’s services organisations, both independent and voluntary, to use the system. For the first time, all children’s services providers would be able to publish outcome information using the same measures. This, I believe, would benefit all sectors.
When should we ask?
For cases that remain open over the course of a year, during January and February of the following year. For cases that are closed during the year, at the point of closure.
How should the questions be put?
Initially, it would perhaps be best to use paper forms. But we should also try to be more creative and innovative about the use of technologies such as the internet and phone applications. The whole concept is based on simplicity so we are not talking about complex IT systems here, at least not at the front end, just simple user applications, with a brief set of simple questions.
How should the information be collated?
A national database could be set up. The apps could be designed to submit information directly to the database. Data should be published in the April after the measurement year.
How should findings be presented?
Most people do not relate to complex tables and charts. I propose visual diagrams (as shown) should be used in any report on local authority children’s services.
I make no apologies for the simplicity of the system I have proposed. At the moment, we do not measure outcomes and we need to. We have to begin somewhere.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
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