Practitioners have broadly welcomed a new project devolving budgets to social workers, according to the What Works for Children's Social Care centre.
Three pilots running in Darlington, Hillingdon and Wigan are exploring whether devolved budgets enabling workers to allow them to find creative solutions to family problems can prevent young people ending up in care.
Social workers and their managers in the three pilot areas have been given decision-making control of discretionary budgets to work with families providing faster and tailored packages of support.
The pilots are showing early signs of promise, the centre says, and the children's social care professionals involved have broadly accepted the project. Social workers reported that the devolved budgets allowed them to help families in ways that would otherwise not have been possible, and help them engage families and build stronger relationships.
The budgets have been used for a variety of purposes:
- Small purchases to build relationships with children, young people and families including meals out and activities.
- Practical support to improve living conditions, reduce parental and family stress for example garage conversion, house cleaning and providing a car to help parents bring children to medical appointments.
- Helping parents build practical skills to increase confidence and reduce sources of stress like driving lessons and cookery classes.
- Expedited access to assessment and treatment.
However, social care teams felt that devolved budgets should not be used to cover gaps left by other services, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
There was a feeling across local authorities that the interventions were still “bedding in" as the pilots experienced some issues in the early stages. Across all three local authorities there has been a lower than anticipated level of use. This is believed to be due to a number of factors, including cultural issues around confidence spending money, process and procedure and previous experience of operating in constrained financial circumstances. Other factors impacting this include the administrative burden associated with the budgets, and an inability to find suitable families. Social workers also highlighted issues around fairness and how transparent they could be with the families.
"While it is not yet possible to say that the use of devolved budgets can safely reduce the need for children and young people to enter care, the pilots are showing promise. We are looking forward to the final reports, due March 2020," the What Works for Children's Social Care centre concluded.