Benchmark all children's services to improve standards, report urges

Data on all children's services provision currently on offer across England should be collected and made available to commissioners so they can make decisions based on what works best for vulnerable young people.

The proposal, which would involve the establishment of a "national outcomes framework", is one of a number of proposals to feature in a report on the state of children's services, put together based on a roundtable discussion involving high level figures in the sector.

The framework would allow commissioners to compare a comprehensive list of children's services provision based on value, quality, cost, and outcomes.

"This would allow for outcomes-based commissioning, enabling commissioners and providers to make strategic use of data to ensure better placements for children, and afford them the time to make well-thought through placement decisions," the report states.

"Further consideration of how outcomes are identified and quantified would be required."

The report has been published by independent providers group Children's Services Development Group (CSDG). Among those attending the roundtable session were Jonathan Stanley, chief executive of the Independent Children's Homes Association, Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers chief executive Harvey Gallagher, and Become chief executive Natasha Finlayson. Local authority representatives were also present and the event was chaired by former children's minister Tim Loughton.

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Special Report: Commissioning Care

Feature: Rethinking children's services

The report says that such an overhaul of commissioning is needed because funding constraints and increasing demand on children's services mean that decisions are too often based on short-term costs rather than the best needs of young people.

This leads to placement instability and can cost councils more in the long term, says the report.

"Local authorities have a statutory duty to promote and safeguard the welfare of children in need by making provisions for care and support to meet those needs, including accommodation," says the report.

"However, this increase in demand and complexity of needs at a time of funding constraints is placing significant pressure on services. In some cases, this is leading to commissioning decisions being driven by costs rather than meeting young people's needs and securing longer-term outcomes."

Other recommendations include better training for commissioners in areas such as analysing population data and building relationships with providers.

In addition there should be a "team around the child approach" for all children in need of support, so that support looks across their care and education needs.

Department for Education figures from last year show that the number of children in care is rising at its fastest rate in five year. In the 12 months to Marh 2017 the number of looked-after children rose from 70,440 to 72,670.

Analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that half the £8.6bn annual children's services budget is spent on children in care.