Current government methods for collecting data about children in care do not “tell them anything”, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has told MPs.
Speaking at a public accounts select committee inquiry, Alan Wood told MPs that simply asking for more data won’t help to understand what being in care means for children’s lives and prospects. He urged: “Let’s collect the correct data.”
“Local authorities will continue to employ people who count things, but no one will be able to analyse it because it doesn’t tell them anything,” Wood said of the vast amounts of data councils are required to send back to the Department for Education (DfE).
The committee is holding an inquiry into the quality of provision for children in care after a National Audit Office report, published last year, criticised the DfE for not using the data it collected to measure the system’s effectiveness.
It also noted that there has been no improvement in getting children into the right placement first time, as a result of the data.
Data collection needs to focus on the quality of work with looked-after children, Wood said. “One example is much of the data we provide is about ‘has a plan been completed within a set timetable’ and everybody will say ‘yes it has’ and you will get 85-90% completion within that.
“Nobody checks whether the quality of that plan is at all helpful or whether it’s changed the outcomes of children,” he said.
Instead, Wood recommended collecting data on 25-30 indicators of children’s experiences, calling for data “that we can go out and measure by talking to parents and talking to children and talking to carers, and from that draw a picture of the broad health of a local authority’s provision for children in social care”.
Wood also called for Staying Put arrangements to be properly funded. Speaking about innovation for children in care, he told MPs: “There are new arrangements that have come in place in terms of foster care, young children by agreement can stay with their foster carers up to 21 and I think that’s a really important scheme, but it needs proper funding.”
The inquiry is examining how the DfE measures its effectiveness in improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of children’s social care. It is also looking at how the DfE will use its Innovation Programme to better understand what works in commissioning.