Social workers see merit in devolved budget approach

By Dan Parton

| 19 August 2019

Giving social workers a budget to spend on practical support for vulnerable children and families is proving popular with many practitioners, according to interim results from a pilot project.

In some cases, social workers have paid for trips away for young people

However, social workers in the three Devolved Budget pilot areas - Darlington, Hillingdon and Wigan - identified a number of concerns, including lack of confidence and training in how to spend money.

Launched last year, the study aims to find out whether devolved budgets can help safely reduce the likelihood of children and young people being taken into care.

Social workers and their managers were given decision-making control of discretionary budgets to work collaboratively with families for quicker, more tailored responses to family issues.

In interim reports, published by What Works for Children's Social Care, social workers reported that the devolved budgets allowed them to help families in ways that would otherwise not have been possible, and helped them to engage families and build stronger relationships.

The budgets have been used for a range of purposes, including small purchases such as cinema trips to build relationships with children and young people and their families, and practical support to improve living conditions and reduce stress, such as house cleaning or providing a car to help bring children to medical appointments.

It has also been used to help parents, such as paying for cookery classes.

In one case in Hillingdon, the budget was used to send a young person abroad for a period to stay with relatives, removing him from a risky local context.

The cost of services and support purchased by social workers also varied widely. In Hillingdon, the minimum purchase cost £9.40 and the highest was £1,800. The median cost was £113.

There are also indications that being able to offer practical solutions to problems is helping to strengthen relationships between social workers and families.

However, social workers also reported concerns, including lower than expected use in all three councils. For instance, in Darlington, 21 families were identified as being eligible, but applications to use the funding were only made by social workers for seven families.

This was attributed to a range of factors, including cultural issues around confidence in spending money - the budget was significantly higher than they were used to with s17 applications - administrative burden and an inability to find suitable families. Social workers also noted issues around fairness and how transparent they could be with the families.

There was also an awareness that devolved budgets should not be used to cover gaps left by other provision, such as child and adolescent mental health services.

In Darlington, managers felt that more information and training is needed to support social workers' confidence and develop creative thinking when using budgets to support families.

Meanwhile, in Wigan, while there were early indications that the devolved budgets were having a sustainable impact on families, social workers felt it was important that families felt empowered to make changes themselves and not become dependent on the budgets. Some families were also reticent to receive help from the devolved budget, with the perception that families want to give the impression they can cope on their own.

In a blog, Michael Sanders, executive director of What Works for Children's Social Care, said: "The focus on families at the edge of care means that this is necessarily a targeted set of interventions into family life. However, the early indications are that devolved budgets might provide one creative way of addressing the challenges posed by family poverty."

This is the first of a two-part project by What Works for Children's Social Care.

In the second project, social workers in Lambeth, Southampton and Stockport have been placed in schools to work directly with families and children, as well as support teachers through training and consultations.

Interim results, published recently, found encouraging signs of improving inter-agency working.

The final reports on the pilot are due to be published in March 2020.

blog comments powered by Disqus