Seven reasons for hope

By Dr Michael Sanders | 25 November 2020

At What Works for Children’s Social Care, we have just announced the results of our first open funding round, which will see us give £2m to seven teams to support delivering innovative practice in social care. We will be separately funding independent evaluations of all of these projects as part of our mission to increase the amount of robust evidence available to social workers and their managers.

When we first announced the funding round in June of this year, it was a nervous moment for us. We had never run this kind of round before and had no idea if anyone would apply. With the world in the grips of a pandemic, social workers were focused on ensuring that vital services were still delivered to our most vulnerable children and families.

We were therefore pleased to receive more than 50 submissions for what ended up being a highly competitive process, in which we emerged wishing we could fund far more projects than our budget would allow.

Our decision to fund a project weighs up how ready it is to launch, the views of our independent expert funding panel, and how prepared it is for the evaluation, which is an essential part of our work.

Some projects already had some evidence of promise. For example, the Lighthouse Parenting Programme, which uses the Mentalisation Based Treatment (MBT) model, has potential pilot evaluations, while Kitbags have been used and evaluated in schools to promote socially and emotionally literate relationships, and will now be evaluated in a children’s social care setting.

Other projects – such as Creative Life Story Work – were selected to fill a vital evidence gap.

Despite life story work – providing a narrative to young people so they can understand their own history – being a statutory requirement for children in care, there is little or no guidance on a best practice model. We hope this project will go some way to resolving this.

We have also tried to fund projects that reflect need across society more broadly. To ensure this we highlighted a number of topics that are, and have been, high on agendas in children’s social care – including domestic abuse.

Two of the seven projects that we have funded – Prevent-Protect-Repair in Lewisham LBC and We Can Talk About Domestic Abuse in Wirral MBC – are focused on domestic abuse.

Prevent-Protect-Repair aims to build the skills, confidence and capacity of children’s social care teams to work with families affected by domestic abuse that are on child protection plans. This includes raising awareness of domestic abuse, expanding training for social workers in key interventions, developing a best practice toolkit and increasing access to specialist therapeutic support – a broad approach.

We Can Talk About Domestic Abuse is targeted on improving understanding, communication and experience between professionals and people affected by domestic abuse. This project ranked particularly highly with our funding panel for involving people with lived experience comprehensively in its work.

Another important focus, whose need has been highlighted this year particularly by the Black Lives Matter movement, is working to improve the experiences of families from groups that have experienced racism. I am excited that we will be funding the No Recourse Early Action Model (NOREAM) project in Hackney.

This project aims to provide earlier holistic and targeted support to families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) who do not currently meet the threshold for support under a child in need plan, and who are often overlooked by existing systems until they reach a crisis point – something this project hopes to address.

In deciding what to fund, we have tried to be guided by those who have living experience of social care, professional experience in the field, and by academic experts – all sit on our funding panel.

The Creative Mentoring project, run by Mighty Creatives, was championed by one of our young advisors, who sat on the panel and was personally concerned with the level of care-experienced people and young care-leavers who are not in employment, education or training. This project aims to enable personal development and uphold education engagement by providing one-to-one creative mentoring to children and young people in care, as well as young care leavers.

Selecting just seven projects to fund wasn’t easy, but I am delighted with the mix of projects we are funding, and excited to see the results of the research that will accompany each of them over the next 18 months. It’s a big step for us as an organisation to be funding these projects, all while building an evidence base.

Dr Michael Sanders is chief executive of What Works for Children’s Social Care


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