The children’s social care What Works Centre has announced the local authorities that it will work with on two pilot schemes with a combined budget of £2.4 million.
The projects, which form part of the best-practice centre’s Change Programme, were unveiled at Community Care Live in September 2018.
One will see Wigan, Hillingdon and Darlington councils explore devolving budgets to social workers, with the aim of assisting them in preventing the need for children to enter care.
The rise in numbers of children being removed from their families was again highlighted over the past few days in a National Audit Office report that criticised the Department for Education for not having a handle on the situation.
The other scheme focuses on placing social workers in schools to work directly with children and families. Southampton, Stockport and Lambeth councils have been chosen for the trial.
‘Empowering social workers to take decisions’
Twenty-one authorities – including Wigan council – are already involved in initial projects with the What Works Centre, which aims to improve social work practice by making information accessible to practitioners at all levels.
The centre has just a few months to begin proving its worth in order to attract funding – which the chair, Alan Wood, estimated at £1-200 million – to sustain its work beyond 2020.
The two new initiatives, Wood said, would aim to “test the hypotheses that if you empower social workers to take decisions about providing support to families or in utilising (or not) statutory procedures without the need for further referral, then more timely decisions can be made”.
This, he added, could enable earlier interventions that helped children remain with their families.
Donald Forrester, a professor at Cardiff University’s CASCADE social work hub, which acts as a research partners for the What Works Centre, said the volume and quality of applications for the Change Programme had been higher than expected.
“We selected projects to allow for comparison of different ways of empowering social workers and families across the two areas,” Forrester said of the schemes, which will run until 2020 and will be evaluated by CASCADE.
‘Confidence to innovate’
A document published to accompany the new funding announcement said that Wigan would target its devolved funds within one child protection team, to be used at social workers’ discretion.
Hillingdon will focus on work with young people at risk of sexual exploitation, while Darlington will split its cash between 30 families engaged with its keeping families together and safeguarding teams.
Cyndi Hughes, Darlington’s lead member for children, said that the council, as a small authority, was particularly pleased to have been selected.
“The funding will give us the ability and confidence to be innovative when supporting families in Darlington,” she said. “It will enable us to understand further about what works to get families back on track, and we are keen to share our learning widely.”
In schools, meanwhile, Lambeth’s project will have a contextual safeguarding focus, while Stockport will look to build on existing early help work and Southampton will target three school clusters with high levels of social care referrals and need.
Colin Foster, Stockport council’s cabinet member for children and family services, said: “This is a great opportunity to develop, test and evaluate Stockport Family’s model of placing social work in the heart of communities within the borough’s schools, to better meet the needs of Stockport’s children, families, schools and communities.”