The government is pressing ahead with plans for professionals working with children in need to hold budgets, despite pilot schemes being rated as ineffective.
In 2006, the government introduced 16 pilots allowing lead professionals to hold budgets so they could directly commission services tailored to a child’s needs.
The £10m pilots were part of a move to create more preventive services for children in need, focused on a lead professional carrying out an assessment under the common assessment framework (CAF) and co-ordinating services to support families.
However, an evaluation of the pilots has found that few practitioners embraced their budget-holding roles, and even fewer managed to achieve real change or cost efficiencies in how services were commissioned. Rather than putting money towards social services, professionals spent it on assisting families with rent arrears, renovating dirty or dilapidated houses or buying leisure activities, although some used it to pay for teaching assistance or counselling for children.
Researchers from Newcastle University attributed the failure to various factors, including management anxiety about devolving budgets and a training programme launched too late for many of the 246 lead professionals who participated in pilot areas.
Some of the pilots had failed to put in place CAFs, the building block for the role, while social workers and clients had little awareness of the pilots purpose.
In the summer of 2007, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) urged pilots to refocus their approach, but few did so.
This week, the DCSF said it was working with the Children’s Workforce Development Council to include budget-holding as part of its general lead professional guidance and training, and would raise awareness of the role as part of integrated working with children’s trusts.
Viv McCrossen, head of additional needs at Nottingham City Council, said the implementation of CAF was essential to any move to improve preventive services.
She is backed by interim findings from the Local Authorities Research Consortium (Larc), from its evaluations of CAF implementation, which found children’s trusts needed to take a lead on CAF implementation and clarify referral thresholds and evidence on improved outcomes and value for money.
McCrossen said CAF was still only being used with families with high thresholds of need when really what we need is evidence to show that implementing it earlier, in the pre-school years, to those children known to services, is more effective.