Councils that have signed up to get more disabled children onto personal budgets will be forced to pay twice for service provision it has been revealed.
The Department for Education (DfE) recently announced that 20 pathfinders, consisting of 31 local authorities and their PCT partners, would be given up to £150,000 per local authority per year to test some of the proposals announced in its green paper on children with disabilities and special educational needs. All will test the single assessment and care plan as well as expanding the number of children on personal budgets.
However, Marion Ingram, Hertfordshire’s operations director for specialist services, has pointed out that trialling personal budgets will require councils to set up a double funding system for some services which will be expensive.
“If a child and their family are given a personal budget and choose not to use a provider they’ve been with previously, the local authority can’t just take funding away from that provider because we’ll already have a contract in place with them. So we’ll have to fund the personal budget choice as well as the established provider, which means we’ll have to be creative with some of our service delivery to make the best of our resources.”
Ingram said this tricky financial situation would last for the duration of the pathfinder trials, which run until March 2013, as most of the council’s contracts are set for two to three years.
Some pathfinders have also pointed out that the time spent actually testing proposals on the frontline will be shorter than anticipated, due to the preparation necessary for such a significant overhaul of the system.
“The first thing we have to establish is what the single assessment plan will look like,” said Zoe Westley, head of social and educational inclusion at Hartlepool. “That’s going to take a lot of consultation and planning, so the reality is that we won’t start testing the new system until next spring.”
This realistically leaves just over 12 months to test proposals in order to meet the government’s deadline of 2014 for the multi-agency assessment and care plan to have been rolled out nationally and every family with a disabled child to have the option of a personal budget.
Liz Lovell, policy adviser on disability for The Children’s Society, says there is a strong likelihood of legislation being introduced before any evaluation information is gathered or published.
Pathfinders were chosen on the basis of bids they sent to the Department for Education (DfE). In addition to the single care plan and personal budgets, many will also trial other specific proposals in the green paper such as how to better involve the voluntary sector and improving transitions to adulthood.
A DfE spokesman said the department hoped to publish the green paper consultation responses by the end of 2011.
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