An optimised model for supporting children in care and on the edges of care: national enablers, local delivery

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In the context of significant national attention on children’s services, of rising numbers of children in care, and the ongoing impact of the pandemic for children, young people, and families, the County Councils Network (CCN), the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE), and Newton have collaborated on this programme of work.

About this Report

This report sets out not only an ambitious vision for the future but also what one ‘optimised local delivery model’ for achieving it could look like. The vision and model are built on improving the outcomes and experience for children and families, and by improving the effectiveness of services, designed to address the unsustainable trajectory of spend on children’s services.


Scope and methodology

Without significant changes to the system, the trend of rising numbers of children being in the care system is likely to continue.


Children in care in 2015


Children in care in 2020

Up to


Estimated children in care in 2025

This work programme has focussed specifically on the system around children in the care of local authorities and those children on both edges of care (those at significant risk of being in care and those children who are currently in care but could be supported to return home safely, or care but could be supported to return home safely, or otherwise leave the care of the local authority). This scope includes services and support provided by both local authorities and partner organisations, while also considering the role of central government.

Recommendations and enablers for reform

In setting out an ambitious vision and a model for the future of children’s social care, it is clear that significant change is required locally and nationally. The following recommendations and enablers (both local and national) are therefore put forward as the basis upon which an overarching reform of the children’s social care system could be built.

The recommendations and enablers are:


Local government should remain at the heart of delivering protection and support to children:

Local government has the intrinsic, democratically accountable understanding of people and ‘place’ needed to adapt to the local needs of children and families, and to coordinate effectively with partner organisations. There are existing, strong examples of authorities delivering both the ‘support’ and ‘protection’ elements of work with children and families which are required to provide the best outcomes. Local authorities’ expertise in the delivery of adult social care services enables them to work effectively with the whole family in order to keep children safe, happy, and well; working to resolve issues including domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental wellbeing, and financial management.


A commitment from local government to implement a consistently high standard of evidence-backed, relationship-based support for children and families on both ‘edges’ of care:

There are children at risk of coming into care who would benefit from receiving support within their family environment and community, and children in care who could be supported to leave care to live safely with family or community. Local authorities need to implement a consistently high standard of evidence-backed, relationship-based support for children and families, linked closely with protective safeguarding duties. There are already highly effective support services operating, including Essex’s ‘Divisional Based Intervention Team’ (DBIT) and Hertfordshire’s ‘Family Safeguarding Model’.


An aligned national strategy, including a reframing of Working Together:

While there are many positive local examples of partnership working, children and families often say they face cliff-edges in support between services and organisations. Addressing this requires an aligned, national strategy, consistent with the vision, pillars, and principles outlined in this report. This strategy needs to cover all public bodies working with vulnerable children and families, but especially health (physical and mental), education, judiciary, and police.  This would likely lead to legislative changes and a reframing of ‘Working Together’, underlining the importance of local coordination, and tailored for the needs of local populations.


Local and national investment to transform the care market:

Central government needs to intervene in the market supplying residential and fostering homes for children to ensure both sufficiency and stability of provision. For residential care, this should focus on addressing the risk of disorderly exit where providers are carrying too much debt. For fostering, a national programme should be launched, delivering the enablers needed to attract and retain sufficient foster carers to meet demand. 

Local government has a role in both managing demand for homes through: effective decision-making; targeted interventions to reduce levels of need; and maximising local market leverage through strong strategic and operational commissioning. These commissioning efforts would be significantly enhanced by a commitment from the Department for Education to fund sector-led collaborations between those authorities who at present lack the required economies of scale to manage the market effectively.


Local and national changes enabling practitioners to spend more time with children and measure the meaningful impact made on their lives

Evidence from this project shows an opportunity for frontline social workers to spend 150,000 hours more per week working directly with children and families (equivalent to more than an hour per week for every child in care and on a child protection plan in England) through fundamental changes to ways of working and factors that influence them. This requires local investment and changes to working cultures including: digital systems that support efficient case recording; challenging the number of internal meetings attended; and building on the use of remote meetings with other professionals developed through the pandemic. At a national level, the extent to which practitioner behaviour is influenced by the regime of inspections, and focus on casework recording, needs to be recognised and addressed. Furthermore, disparities between what children and young people tell us is important to them and what is statutorily recorded should change, allowing for a more meaningful, child-focussed approach to measuring the impact of interventions.


An inspection and regulation framework that reflects the evidence from this report:

In inspections this requires equal weighting to be placed on children being supported to leave care, where appropriate and safe, as is placed on children entering the care system. It also requires a new approach to risk when making inspection judgements; one that balances both the short-term risks a child or young person faces with the long-term consequences of being separated from their family and community. There is also a requirement for regulatory and inspection changes to support more flexible, innovative responses in two key areas:

  • An age-appropriate offer for adolescents and teenagers, reflecting the different nature of strengths and risks they typically face when compared to younger children.
  • The provision of a sufficient quality and quantity of homes for children in local authority care.

A fair and sustainable funding model:

A crucial enabler of local, systemic change is a commitment from Government to a fair and long-term funding settlement for local authority children’s services and relevant partner services. Many authorities involved in this project cited the beneficial impact that having a longer-term funding plan to work to would provide; enabling them to invest with greater confidence in initiatives with longer payback periods. The model outlined here requires both investment in the significant transformation work needed to deliver the approach, as well as initial investment to support families at both ‘edges of care’. Some authorities may be able to fund these themselves; others may not be. The scope of this work has not included a detailed analysis of local authority finances and reserves and therefore any funding settlement would need to factor this in. However, it is clear that the investment would not only achieve better outcomes for thousands of children across the country, but also mitigate £1.4bn to £2.0bn of the forecast £2.1bn growth in spend on children in care expected by 2025.

An Optimised Model of Delivery

The objective of this programme has been to set out an ambitious, sector-led vision for the future, and an optimised local delivery model which could deliver that vision.

The proposed model comprises five underpinning pillars and a set of principles for how these can be delivered by local authorities as the lead agency for children’s social care alongside local partner organisations.

It should also be noted that this is proposed as one example of an optimised model to deliver the ambition, based on the evidence and experience collated in this report.


Children and young people should be safe, well, happy and have the foundations to thrive.

Keeping families together
Aligned partnership working
A great place to call home
For those in care, the right care
Locally Tailored Delivery Systems





IT & Systems


Data & Digital


Nationally enabled

Fair, sustainable funding

Inspection and regulation

All policy and law impacting children and families

Impact of the optimised model:

Based on extensive engagement and assessment of council practices to date, the following examples evidence some of the benefits that could be achieved if this model of local delivery was fully adopted and implemented.

Implementation of the optimised model could:

* These savings figures are presented net of an ongoing investment cost of £205m required to fund more intensive support for children and families at the edges of care.

Reduce the forecast number of children being housed in residential care homes by 2025 by 37%.

Enable social care practitioners to spend an additional 25% of their time directly supporting children and families.

Reduce the forecast number of children in care by 2025.

Reduce spend on children in care by 19–27% by 2025 or between £1.4bn and £2.0bn.

As seen in

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