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Top down is no way to succeed

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Of the 800 or so functions councils fulfil, social services carry some of the highest risks and overall costs.

Significant time and energy goes into delivery and continuous improvement by councillors, staff and partner organisations. So there is a good reason why the LGA’s funding outlook modelling, which predicts the likely impact of funding cuts on local services, protects spending on adults’ and children’s social services.

Put simply, caring for the vulnerable people in our communities is the most important thing councils do. It is also the most complex and difficult.

The problems facing adults’ and children’s social services have been neatly encapsulated in the news in recent weeks. Reports of the increase in the number of 15-minute home care visits to the elderly and infirm betrays a chronic underfunding of adult social care, while the tragic stories of the neglect of Daniel Pelka and Keanu Williams reveal a system of child safeguarding in some areas which needs to focus far more on communication and coordination between government agencies.

These two issues occupied much of the discussion at the LGA’s National Children and Adults Services Conference in Harrogate last week. In relation to the first, there is a genuine sense of progress following the announcement earlier in the year of the diversion of funding from the NHS to social care in 2015-16.

This represented a landmark moment but is not in itself the solution. A huge amount of work remains to be done.

While there is no doubt that additional money for social care and the more effective use of health budgets will go a long way to addressing the problems facing adult social services, the challenges in relation to children’s safeguarding are more complex. The multi-agency nature of monitoring and delivering protection make it so.

However, many of the services that councils provide are there as safety nets for when individuals and families need help; they don’t of
themselves solve underlying problems. Everyone involved knows that building capacity and using the strengths of individuals and communities enables them to cope with challenges and reduces the
longer term cost.

Much work has already been done to set out new arrangements for adult social care services, and the LGA, with the help of its members, recognises that a refreshed approach to children’s services could help communities set out their hopes and aspirations for their children and young people, rather than solely focus on preventative services.

So the LGA’s Children and Young People Board met at the NCAS Conference, with 50 lead members for children and young people invited to attend. The aim was to develop a clear shared policy which takes a proactive stance and sets out the ambitions we share with children and young people, their parents, carers, families and neighbours.

Provisionally entitled Our Ambition for Children, the LGA programme sets out a clear framework for a change of approach in the whole public sector including schools, colleges, the health service and the police.

The starting point is to focus on the journey of the child from before they are born to adulthood and on the outcomes delivered by universal services. It places children’s services firmly in a whole-community context and focuses on developmental and preventative approaches rather than simply responding to crises and interventions.

In addition, there is a very strong sense that we need to get away from the current model of top-down performance management.

We will be looking to set out a new system of performance management where the job of the inspectorates is to hold services to account and give parents, professionals who work with children and councillors the information they need to tackle underperformance.

The theme that underpins our work in relation to both adult social care and children’s safeguarding is localism. In both instances it is clear that many of the issues which have emerged in recent years are caused by a silo-driven, national-led approach to delivering services which are best designed, co-ordinated and delivered at a local level.

We have already seen with the pioneering troubled families initiative that services designed around the needs of the end user are better services that cost less. We believe a truly co-ordinated approach to social services, set in the broader context of the
aspirations of communities and families, will deliver similarly positive results.

Daniel Goodwin, executive director, finance and policy, LGA

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