Why are we doing this?
The Centre will develop a strong evidence base around effective interventions and practice systems in children’s social care, and will support their implementation by practitioners and decision-makers.
Its goal will be to improve outcomes for children and their families by supporting translation of evidence into better practice on the ground.
Commissioned by the Department for Education, the Centre is currently being established with support from a development team or ‘incubator’ and a research partner, but will become a fully independent organisation by summer 2020.
Keep up to date about developments: register for What Works Centre updates
What will the future Centre do?
The Centre’s broad scope will cover support for children from the point of referral through to permanence, including adoption, care-leaver support and targeted early help. Its focus will be on children’s social care practice in England, but it will draw on and share learning at the international level as well.
The Centre will target children’s social work practitioners and decision-makers working within children’s social care, including those in residential homes, healthcare, policing and policymakers.
The Department for Education has awarded two contracts to set up the Centre. These contracts will run in parallel up to June 2020 and include the What Works Centre development team - a consortium led by Nesta and its Alliance for Useful Evidence, in partnership with the Social Care Institute for Excellence, FutureGov and Traversum - and the What Works Centre research partner, led by Cascade at Cardiff University - who will lead on the research programme.
When fully established, the Centre will:
- collate and share existing research, evidence and data
- identify and support robust standards of evidence in children’s social care
- develop the evidence base by conducting new trials and evaluations
- translate existing and new evidence into easily accessible guidance and resources for practitioners
- drive and support the dissemination and implementation of findings into practice
- support practitioners and decision-makers to understand the importance and utility of research
- support the development of a coherent learning infrastructure to foster learning
What is the development team doing?
The development team - led by Nesta and its Alliance for Useful Evidence - is working with the sector to establish a credible, independent and effective What Works Centre by summer 2020.
The group – working closely with the research partner Cascade - is establishing what the Centre should focus on, how it should identify and share evidence, and how it should be managed and led.
Our work focuses on four main areas:
- Stakeholder engagement
- Organisational design.
We are working closely with the sector to identify research priorities, and partner with local authorities to develop the evidence base and design the best way for people to access and use the findings. As at March 2018, we have:
- established an Advisory Group of stakeholders from across the children’s sector
- held a series of four events for practicioners, attracting over 200 delegates, who provided insights into what the Centre should focus on, and how it should support embedding an evidence-approach
- established a Children and Young People’s Panel and held its first meeting. Over 50 children and young people aged 13 to 24 applied to join the Panel. The first panel meeting on 19 February was attended by 20 young people with a range of experiences of social care, including having been on child protection or child in need plans, young people currently in care and care leavers. The meeting focused on young people’s experiences of social care, and what they thought social workers needed to learn.
- established a Practitioners’ Panel, including principal social workers, lead practitioners, frontline social workers, and voluntary sector practitioners from across the country. The Panel will meet for the first time in April
- established a Voluntary and Community Sector Leaders Group, with representatives from the key charities working with children and families
- met regularly with key sector leaders including the Children’s Improvement Board, the Principal Social Work Network, ADASS, BASW, LGA and of course the Department for Education.
As at March 2018, the development team has identified:
- how practitioners at different levels view, access and use evidence in their work through a series of in-depth practice insight visits to local authorities. Watch out for a series of blogs on the findings
- the policy environment and its future possible direction
- the extent of the evidence base within the children’s sector – and where the gaps lie.
This work has helped to identify the first two major research and review priorities for the Centre, which will be managed by Cascade.
The initial major research themes will look at two of the most longstanding issues for the sector:
- How to safely reduce the need for children to enter care: The first stage of this long-term research programme will identify existing evidence, describe elements of in-house local authority practice that may reduce the need for care entry and discover what specialist services are being delivered to achieve this aim. Stage two will explore the implementation of the approaches identified as promising in stage one – for instance applying interventions that have worked in other countries or implementing a promising approach in a different local authority. Stage three, which is likely to run from 2020 is likely to involve a programme of high quality trials of the most promising approaches.
- How to improve supervision and decision-making in children’s social care: This programme of studies will learn from best practice and develop new ways of helping social workers through effective supervision and decision-making. Crucially, they will test the difference that effective supervision makes to the quality of practice and outcomes for children.
Testing approaches to accessing and using evidence
We will work with the sector to devise effective approaches to ensuring that evidence is both taken up and acted upon.
We will work with a limited number of pioneer sites to develop and test approaches to ensuring that local authorities are well positioned to make the best use of evidence that we know to be good, as it becomes available. We will use best practice in service design, including user-centred design and prototyping methodologies to quickly test, learn and adapt promising ideas for addressing recognised organisational and systemic barriers to the uptake of evidence children’s social work practice.
For these approaches to be effective, they need to be connected to a body of evidence. Our proposal is to use existing evidence that we know to be good from our early evidence assessment activities.
Further information will be published shortly. Sign up for Centre updates to find out more.
The Centre will be established as an independent organisation by summer 2020. The development team will establish a fully-designed organisation, appoint and support the executive team.
We are currently working with the Advisory Group and Panels to develop the centre’s initial strategy, and we are establishing a Founding Board with an independent, founding chair to lead the work of the Centre prior to 2020.
Recruitment for the founding chair will commence in late March 2018. Further details will be published shortly. Sign up for Centre updates to find out more.
The Centre is being established in three phases:
Phase 1: October 2017 - June 2018
Initial engagement work, research prioritisation and organisational design, including recruitment of the founding chair.
Phase 2: June 2018 – June 2020
Recruitment of and support to the executive team. Creation of a knowledge and learning infrastructure to support the use of evidence, and development of approaches to sector engagement.
Phase 3: June 2020 onwards
The development team’s role comes to an end and the Centre is be an autonomous, independent and sustainable organisation.
The establishment of the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care forms part of the Department for Education’s wider agenda to develop a culture of learning across children’s social care.
The Centre will be rooted in previous experience and insights drawn from the best of the existing What Works Centres around how to create an effective force for evidence-informed change. It will also explore, test and adapt new approaches to engaging with the sector and disseminating learning about what works.
The Centre will join the What Works Network of seven existing independent Centres, and two affiliate members, promoted and supported by Cabinet Office. The network is underpinned by the principle that good decision-making should be informed by the best available evidence.
Existing What Works Centres include: the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), the Early Intervention Foundation, What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, and the Centre for Ageing Better.
Practitioners’ events – December 2017 – January 2018
The development team ran a series of four events across the country for practitioners to help gather detailed information and perspectives on:
- The key tasks and activities that social workers and colleagues perform
- How data and evidence might be made more readily accessible and useable
- How practitioners would like to get involved with the establishment of the centre
The events were aimed at:
- Children’s social work practitioners such as frontline social workers, team managers, principal social workers, senior managers, practice leaders (e.g. Heads of Service and Assistant Directors)
- Other practitioners in the children’s social care system (e.g. non-qualified workers in residential care, family support workers, personal advisers and independent advocates)
- Practitioners in other services relevant to vulnerable children and young people (e.g. education, health, youth work, and the youth/criminal justice system).
To find out more, register for updates on the What Works Centre. We will keep you updated on progress, including details of how to get involved in events or online activities. Sign up here. Or contact [email protected]
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Who's working on this?
Nesta's Alliance for Useful Evidence representative: