Report urges DfE to ‘secure better outcomes’ in children’s social care

The Department for Education (DfE) has “further to go to embed a culture of evaluation in social care”, according to a report by MPs.

The DfE’s 14-year, £333 million Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme (CSCIP) is subject of a new report published on Wednesday.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report examines the programme to see what delivers best for children in the care system.

CSCIP was launched in 2014 to test and share effective ways of supporting vulnerable children and young people who need help from children’s social care services, DfE guidance states.

PAC has now called on the DfE to demonstrate how the evidence it is gathering is leading to improvements on the front line.

It concludes that DfE has “further to go to embed a culture of evaluation in social care” so opportunities to secure better outcomes for children are not lost when dedicated funding ends.

Local authorities in England spend around £9 billion per year on children’s social care, the report states.

It therefore argues the cost of evaluation is good value as it “will often be a mere ‘rounding error’ when compared to the scale of mainstream spending they can influence”.

CSCIP was intended to improve outcomes for children in the social care system as well as producing savings, PAC adds.

But it “is not yet convinced the Department’s dissemination of learning from the programme is delivering widespread improvement”.

The report notes: “Potential innovation risks being hampered by inflexibility in the wider system of children’s social care.”

It adds: “A challenging funding environment requires that Government maintains its commitment to evaluation, and applies its learning to secure better outcomes.”

PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier (pictured) said: “The Department for Education has established a proper approach to assessing whether its new programmes will actually deliver better outcomes for children in the care system and the taxpayer.

“This is welcome.

“The test will be how it ensures that robust use of evidence to change the care system is not just a flash in the pan or dismissed as an expensive luxury at a time of cuts.

“It is vital that it is continued to make sure that these children receive the best support possible.

“Reports of councils paying a million pounds a year, of taxpayers’ money, for a residential place for a single child with complex needs are a reminder of the cost to the taxpayer, and not always an indicator that the young person is getting the right support.

“In an historic public spending squeeze, getting better outcomes for the money spent is a win-win that we all want to see.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are pleased that both the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office have acknowledged the impact our work is having on improving outcomes for children in care, but we know there is more to do.

“That’s why we are investing millions to create high-quality, safe homes for children in care, including those with the most complex needs who require specialist support, or to refurbish existing homes so that councils have sufficient places available.

“Ahead of our bold reform plans to fundamentally improve children’s social care, we are working closely with the sector to make sure future services build on the strong evidence base we have developed over the past 10 years.”

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