Review of placements team

The Productivity Experts Programme grant funding supported the redesigning of the commissioning of our placement function for Children’s Services and considering future integration with the Adult’s services; as well as developing effective performance management processes and systems, and a quality assurance framework.

Efficiency and income generation

The Croydon Ofsted inspection in 2017 identified that the experiences and progress of children looked after and achieving permanence were inadequate. One of the contributing factors relate to weaknesses demonstrated in the Placement process when sourcing individual placements for children who have care, educational and health needs.

The challenge

London Borough of Croydon (LBC) has the one of the highest number of looked after children (LAC) of any London borough. As of July 31 2018, there were a total of 780 looked after children in Croydon. Of these, 277 were children seeking asylum looked after children and 503 were local looked after children. Our cohort is unique in that Croydon has the one of the highest number of looked after children of any London borough due in part to the high numbers of children seeking asylum looked after by the borough.

The number of local LAC has increased over the last year (July 2017-July 2018) from 427 to 503, a net increase of 76 (18 per cent) over the last year. There are a further 92 children before the Court (in care proceedings) and 63 children subject to a Public Law Outline (PLO) process. These numbers indicate that the LAC population within LBC will further increase over the coming 12 months.

Croydon has the highest proportion of looked after children who have foster placements in London. 648 children were in foster placements (86 per cent) compared with (74 per cent) nationally at 3 September 2018. Croydon’s performance has improved from 77 per cent of children placed in foster care in 2013.Whilst Croydon’s ability to place children and young people with foster carers has improved, the increasing number of children coming into care is increasing the demand for foster placements.

We have experienced an increase in residential placements. These placement options are considered where they are the best fit for a young person’s needs, either short or long term, including where a family-based placement is not suitable.

53 looked after young people are living semi-independently. Semi-independent accommodation can be offered where an assessment of independence skills indicates that the young person is ready for this, as a step towards further independence.

The placement function for children looked after in Croydon is performed differently across the various departments within the Children’s division. It also suffers from the disaggregation of support functions such as finance and business support which are managed centrally and do not always follow through the service processes. This has resulted in the process being overcomplicated with increased difficulties for tracking placement data and team performance management and spend/ overspend.

The overall children social care placement spend is in the region of £30 million annually. Of this, the external placement spend is approximately £14 million annually, with the projected overspend at £2.6million.

Having the right placement in the right place, at the right time is critical to achieving placement stability and the best outcomes for our looked after children overall. Placement stability and security reduces additional costs associated with placement moves.

The solution

Work has been undertaken on this project since January 2019.

The key findings to date have been:

  • challenging business support processes, especially in terms of tracking costs of placements
  • increasing demand pressures for placements and complexity of need in our young people
  • inconsistency of practice (in relation to placements) across all social work teams
  • expensive, over complicated process that is not fit for purpose
  • lack of buy in and negative perceptions of the function
  • lack of performance and quality monitoring of placements.

There are numerous elements to the improvement of the placements process including system changes, recording data, financial reporting, social care processes, and staff team stability.

The key elements of the process review and improvement are:

  • changes to the children’s recording system (crs)/controcc system to allow better recording of placements, create payments etc
  • clear payment process for all practitioners to follow
  • a joint understanding of the process from senior management, to social workers, to placement officers, and business support
  • better data and performance recording to monitor progress and spend
  • review of contract monitoring and performance monitoring of providers and placements.

A central project plan and action plan has been contributed to by a range of key stakeholders including social care, commissioning, procurement, and business support.

Anticipated outcomes

The new service model will:

  • Create an improved service offer across the organisation which could potentially:
    • achieve better outcomes for children and young people
    • utilise skills of staff appropriately
    • release social worker capacity for quality assurance
    • release efficiencies
    • create a seamless payment process
    • prompt greater response from the market
    • improve staff retention - where placement officer positions are filled by locums, create opportunities to recruit permanent staff
    • enhance the role of the placement team within children’s social care (csc) and potentially across new areas where the placement function is not consolidated.

The Placements Team were located in Children’s Social Care but moved into Commissioning and Procurement. This created improved links with commissioning and contract management to ensure quality placements and fast action where risk or low quality is identified. However the link between social care and placements needs to be improved, with better proactive communication.

The impact

Our initial review has identified numerous opportunities for improving the process and quality of placements, thus increasing the stability of placements and reducing the level of placement breakdowns. This work will also achieve efficiency savings by creating a lean functional structure and process with clear performance management and benefit tracking systems. It is very difficult to predict exact savings at this stage due to current inaccurate data and the unpredictability of level of demand, however we are working to get an accurate picture of current spend whilst mapping projected need.

We hope to bring the spend down by between £500,000 and £1 million over the next two years.

The next stage of the project is to review the current providers where our young people are placed. This will include looking at the provider themselves, costs and quality, and the outcomes for the young people who reside there.

Identified impact:

  • review of current providers – identify gaps in quality and opportunity to rectify these
  • review of current placements and cost – identifying double spend, missed payments, overcharging etc
  • implementing robust gatekeeping earlier in the social care process by bringing in a tripartite joint funding panel to agree/challenge requests for care placements. the panel will consist of senior partners from social care, education and health.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The project plan and the ‘roll out’ action plan set out the actions required to ensure that this work is sustainable by being robustly embedded across the council. The placements process and team cut across a number of directorates, impacting on children’s social care, finance, commissioning and procurement and potentially education (SEND placements).

The project benefits from a governance structure with project/task groups, and the Head of Commissioning and Procurement for Children, Families and Education and Transformation Lead meeting regularly with the Director of Children’s Services to provide updates and gather input.

Additional time is being taken to engage with all key partners/directorates throughout this project, to assist with support and sustainability with the new processes embedding. Without every element of the process working well, it will be more challenging to achieve the savings and improved quality in the longer term.

Included in the Roll out action plan, we have identified training required for staff within the process – including training on how to record on our CRS system, training on any new forms and templates required (Placement Request Form, Joint Funding Panel Summary Forms), looking at “good” quality placements as well as a general launch of the new process within children’s social care.

This work links closely with a cross borough programme currently being developed called the South London Commissioning Partnership (SLCP). The SLCP is developing a framework for placements for looked after children and SEND, which will be available for the placements team to use.

Lessons learned

  • LBA has created a complicated system/process for placement procurement/placement recording – this project aims to simplify this.
  • service areas have worked individually rather that collaboratively which has resulted in poor audit trails.
  • assumptions that all stakeholders understand the processes that are required when procuring, finding and funding placements.

Contacts

London Borough of Croydon
Pasquale Brammer, Head of Commissioning and Procurement: Pasquale.brammer@croydon.gov.uk

Sara Scholey, Strategic Project Manager: Sara.scholey@croydon.gov.uk

Local Government Association
Grace Abel, Advisor: grace.abel@local.gov.uk

Links to relevant documents