The Children’s Services Development Group (CSDG) was delighted to launch Collaborating for better outcomes, its joint report with LGiU, last week. This is a groundbreaking report which sees commissioners and providers coming together for the first time to find solutions to the challenges facing the sector from the impact of austerity measures and increased service demand. This is ultimately with the aim of bringing about better outcomes for vulnerable children – both those in the care system and those with special educational needs (SEN).
In order to make improvements to outcomes for these children, more partnership working between providers and commissioners is needed. This is why CSDG and the LGiU came together to develop these recommendations to improve commissioning and ensure that all vulnerable children will be able to receive the care and support they need to lead fulfilling lives.
Currently there is no nationally recognised measurement of outcomes and progress which is why one key recommendation of the report is the introduction of a National Outcomes Framework. While good outcomes will vary depending on the needs of each individual child, we need a framework within which providers of care can be benchmarked, ensuring commissioners and providers know what good outcomes look like. This is crucial to ensuring services cost-effectively meet needs and improve the long-term life-chances of vulnerable children.
Alongside this, it is essential that commissioners look at the individual needs of each child in their care and take a longer-term approach to this care. We need to move away from commissioning on the basis of short-term cost. Instead we must look at the whole-life costs for a child, and avoid the potential longer-term costs, both to the taxpayer and to the child themselves, of looking only at their immediate needs and not their long term care plan and future outcomes.
For too long looked-after children have suffered disproportionately from poor educational attainment levels and outcomes in later life, exacerbated by multiple placements breaking down and the emotional instability this can cause. It is our job as providers to ensure that the care we offer is of a high quality and ensures that our children have the best possible chance in life. At the same time commissioners must find the most suitable placement with the appropriate level of specialism for every child first time.
CSDG members provide care and specialist education services, for some of the most difficult to place young people with complex needs. This includes not only looked-after children but also children with SEN, including autism and learning difficulties, who need specialised, tailored support. However, we can only do this if commissioners work with us to end problematic practices such as short-term placements. Equally providers need to ensure that, at a time of budget cuts and increasing service demand, we offer the highest quality services at the best possible value.
These improvements can all be made through collaborative working between providers and commissioners, but local authorities and national government need to give commissioners the support, training and powers to deliver. CSDG and the LGiU will be working hard to ensure that our proposals are seen and taken into account across the sector. We hope that the government, commissioners and other providers will take on board our recommendations so that we can all work to make real improvements to commissioning and ultimately the long-term outcomes for the vulnerable children in our care.
CSDG is an alliance of seven independent providers of care and specialist education services for children and young people with complex needs. Members are Acorn Care & Education, Foster Care Associates, National Fostering Agency, Options Group, Priory Group, SENAD Group and Witherslack Group.