Social work practices: Charities deterred by payment by results

Voluntary sector organisations are warning they may have to rethink bidding to run social work practices in forthcoming pilots because of plans to tie providers’ payments to performance.

Under a proposed financial model for the pilots, seen by Community Care, the proportion of performance-related funding would rise from nothing in the first year to 60% in year four. Prospective providers have warned this will leave them with too much financial risk.

Councils will commission practices to provide social work services for looked-after children. The pilots will begin in spring 2009 and will be evaluated over two years. A decision will be taken on whether practices should be rolled out in autumn 2012.

Kevin Williams, chief executive of TACT, the largest charitable fostering agency in England and Wales, said: “In principle we support social work practices and in the beginning we were excited about them. But we’re now cautious. There has been no study showing how you link outcomes with payment by results.”

‘Double pilot’

He said this amounted to “a double pilot – one for social work practices and one for payment for outcomes”, adding: “Social work practices should be fully funded for three years and then they could look at piloting payment by outcomes.”

The proposed funding model is only a recommendation. It will be up to piloting councils and providers to decide how payments are made – but the Department for Children, Schools and Families sees it as a way of incentivising improvements.

Performance would be assessed against outcomes such as improved stability of placement, stability of social worker or lead professional and educational attainment.

Outcomes framework ‘extremely difficult’

But Williams said it had been “extremely difficult” identifying an outcomes framework.

Chris Carey, development director at Shaftesbury Young People, another organisation interested in running a social work practice, said: “We can’t afford to make a loss. If changes aren’t made to the model we will have to think very carefully about going ahead.”

Children’s services consultant Simon Newstone said: “The pilot stage must not be seen as a cost-saving exercise. At the least we should be trying to ascertain whether we can achieve better outcomes for children for the same cost, not less. “

The financial model

The proposed model splits funding into four elements: the practice will receive core funding and an emergency retainer to pay for “high-cost” children it will receive outcomes payments in relation to performance and the council will retain funding for corporate parenting.

Year 1: 80% core 10% emergency 10% corporate

Year 2: 60% core 20% outcomes 10% emergency 10% corporate

Year 3: 40% core 40% outcomes 10% emergency 10% corporate

Year 4: 20% core 60% outcomes 10% emergency 10% corporate

➔ What do you think of the model? Have your say on CareSpace.

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