Faced with rising numbers of children going into care and escalating costs as a result, Oxfordshire County Council engaged IMPOWER to radically alter its ways of working.
The consultancy’s Valuing Care programme has enabled the council to better understand why children were entering the care system and to also create more effective pathways out of care. It has been very much a partnership approach between the consultancy, the client, children and care providers.
IMPOWER’s deep understanding of children’s social care, combined with tools that have been developed and refined through work with local authorities over more than a decade, have enabled fundamental changes and vastly improved performance.
Bringing a child into care is the most important intervention the state can ever make in a child’s life. Valuing Care helps councils to improve the life chances of children in care by strengthening the links between children’s needs, the outcomes being pursued, and the resources available.
Although the formal implementation project has come to an end, Oxfordshire continues to be part of a national Valuing Care network led by IMPOWER.
The council now has a clear understanding what children’s needs are, whether they are being met and where the gaps in provision lie. It is able to measure and track the links between spend and outcomes.
As a result, more children have been able to move out of residential care and into foster family placements, and in some cases, the family home. It has also enabled the council to give providers a far clearer picture of a child’s needs and ensure they are being met.
Tools and approaches have been embedded that will ensure the council is equipped to adopt a far more strategic approach and drive continued improvement to get the most out of its resources.
Lara Patel, the council’s Deputy Director of Children’s Services, describes IMPOWER as ‘a tremendous ally and partner’ and believes the project will have a lasting legacy.
‘There’s been a sense of trust and mutual respect from the start,’ she explains.
‘They have got really well-evidenced tools and solid experience in not only working with councils but also some of their consultants have worked in local authorities. They really understand our work because they have been involved in it themselves at some point in their careers.
‘They were absolutely involved in everything. They add capacity from an organisational perspective, but ensure that there’s ownership within the organisation so that it’s sustainable when they walk away. Ultimately, it’s only going to work if it’s led from within.’
The council is now developing the Valuing Care approach to children with special educational needs and disabilities to ensure they are receiving appropriate support.
The project was never simply about saving money – although the financial benefits are substantial and it has achieved savings of £3.5m over three years. This was about boosting the life chances of the county’s most vulnerable children and young people, and by building a clearer understanding of their needs, that’s precisely what has been achieved.
View the IMPOWER profile in the MCA Members Directory.