Councils told to consult with children on service provision

The government’s commissioning support programme is calling on councils to radically increase the number of children, young people and families they consult, as part of proposals to overhaul the way local services are planned.

Lorraine O’Reilly, director of the programme, told CYP Now that a new, faster and more responsive approach to commissioning is needed to help authorities cope with impending cuts to public spending.

In light of this, the support programme is launching a set of “outcomes and efficiency” resources, urging councils to use a “bottom-up” approach to redesigning services. This is intended to fit in with the big society and the drive towards “Total Place-style” commissioning.

“Thinking is too often based on buildings, institutions and individuals rather than user need, demographics and outcomes,” O’Reilly explained. “The earlier the families get involved, the better your service will be.”

She added that authorities should focus on talking to the families that are in contact with the highest number of local services. “Councils, primary care trusts, police forces, voluntary sector groups and schools all know who the families are in their area that cost them the most,” she said. “Services need to look laterally across the board to reassess what they’re doing collectively.”

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, backed the support programme’s call, warning that many families are currently unhappy with provision in their area.

“The best way to make reductions in spending is to ask people what they would do,” she said. “Children and families can help commissioners provide services that get to the nub of what they need.”

Mandy Douglas, assistant director of the participation and skills centre at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), argued that children and young people have the fundamental right to be involved in designing services, adding that targeting provision effectively is always more cost-effective.

“The meaningful participation of children, young people and families in the delivery, monitoring and evaluation of service provision is not embedded within the structures and processes of local authorities,” she said. “There have been improvements but they could be doing more.”