Looked after children: Best commissioning practice and tools

This section provides links to some tools for those involved in children’s services commissioning. These tools provide practical guidance on effective commissioning, helping commissioners to focus on improving outcomes. 

Outcomes and Efficiency: Commissioning for Looked After Children guide PDF (1.27 MB)

Leading commissioners and providers have pooled their knowledge of solutions to create the Outcomes and Efficiency: Commissioning for Looked After Children guide. The document describes how to meet the new statutory standards for commissioning and the sufficiency duty, and is part of the CSP Outcomes & Efficiency enhanced offer.

Needs assessment and strategic planning

Joining up the commissioning of accommodation and support for young people aged 16-25 PPT (1.93 MB)

This resource is designed by the Commissioning Support Programme to help local authorities and their partners to take forward a joint commissioning approach to accommodation and support for young people in their area, and to provide ideas and information to support the process. This tool will be of particular interest to Commissioners and strategic managers with responsibility for: looked after and leaving care services; supporting People or housing related support; strategic housing, social landlord and homelessness/housing options services; youth offending, health and other services working with vulnerable young people.

Think research PDF (1.95 MB)

This document supports commissioners and service planners to use research evidence when building strategy, locate relevant evidence, appraise and review research, and build an outcome-focused evaluation of research evidence to combine with other analyses in the development of strategy. (Cabinet Office - Social Exclusion Task Force, 2008)


Commissioning for better outcomes for children in need - A national development programme for Wales PDF (241 KB)

This document includes a range of material and tools relevant to commissioners of services for children in need. (Social Services Improvement Agency (SSIA), 2008)


DCSF statistical releases for looked-after children website

This page on the DCSF Research and Statistics Gateway website provides access to a comprehensive list of statistical releases about looked-after children. These are likely to be a key source of material for commissioners of services for looked-after children including information about current demand and performance, and trends in these over time. 


National Child Health, CAMHS and Maternity Service Mapping Exercise website

This site aims to create an inventory of children's and maternity services in England by collecting data from all agencies that come within the remit of Children's Trusts, including the level of investment in services. Local authorities were invited to participate in the children's services mapping exercise for the first time in 2008. The level of data collection therefore varies, but where it has been done, commissioners can get an overview of a number of aspects of service provision including types of services, services targeted at vulnerable groups (including looked after children), staffing profile across the area and balance between universal, targeted and specialist services.


The joint strategic needs assessment (JSNA) core dataset PDF on DH website (903 KB)

This provides a list of indicators and detailed information to assist in preparaing joint strategic needs assessments. A thorough needs assessment at strategic level is a key step in securing sufficiency of accommodation for looked-after children. The JSNA offers a vehicle for doing the work with relevant partners. (Association of Public Health Observatories, 2008)


Participation Works website

Getting the views of children and young people is a key element of the needs assessment process. Participation Works is an online gateway designed to improve the way services access and share information about involving children and young people in decision making.


Narrowing the gap: Final guidance year 1 PDF (3.05 MB)

This practical guide aims to answer the question: What is it that, if applied universally and pursued relentlessly, would make the most significant differences to the outcomes for vulnerable groups of children and young people? It identifies that the core things that ‘work’ for looked after children are: placement stability, foster care, a supportive study environment at both school and home with good links between the two and activities that promote resilience, a sense of stability and strong sense of identity. The guide includes templates for self-evaluation by service managers and practitioners. (Narrowing the Gap, 2008)


Healthy Care Programme website

DCSF supports the Healthy Care Programme. It seeks to improve health and well-being outcomes for looked-after children by developing good practice through partnership working, policy development and the participation of looked-after children and young people. The site offers access to a range of guidance and resources, following a pilot programme during 2001-2004, including:

  • The National Healthy Care Standard Entitlements and outcomes Appendix 1: A national standard of healthy care that reflects best practice and contributes to the Every Child Matters national outcomes for children. It is relevant in a commissioning context because it highlights the range of factors that should be taken into account when considering whether a placement meets needs. (Healthy Care Programme, 2005)
  • Healthy Care Audit Tool Appendix 2: This is based on the standard and can help local authorities and NHS services take stock of where they are in providing quality services to looked-after children. (Healthy Care programme, 2005)


Education of looked-after children toolkit

Last updated in 2007, this toolkit from the Audit Commission has been designed to help councils improve the educational outcomes of looked-after children. It is based on rigorous, honest self-assessment of current outcomes and processes, which will enable councils to identify ways to improve. The downloadable self-assessment tool generates spreadsheets and charts to show progress. An action plan is also provided. Coming soon.


In it together: achieving quality outcomes for young people with complex needs PDF (857 KB)

The case studies in this guide highlight best practice in commissioning care and education services for children with complex and challenging needs. It focuses on children’s services providers and local authorities working in partnership. (Children’s Services Development Group, Local Government Association, 2009)


Determining the optimum supply of children’s residential care PDF (1.71 MB)

This report presents the findings from a review of children’s residential care services in England. It highlights supply and demand issues affecting the residential care market and considers the optimal level of provision of places in registered children’s residential care homes in England. (DCSF, 2007)


Children’s homes and fostering PDF (274 KB)

This report reviews the market for fostering provision and children’s homes. Specific emphasis is placed on the extent to which the market is able to deliver cost-effective placements for children that meet their needs. (DfES Children's Services, PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2006)


Easy Monte Carlo Tool Excel spreadsheet (4.14 MB)

Monte Carlo is a recognised statistical technique recommended by the Treasury. It enables commissioners to consider the many factors that may affect levels of expenditure and to estimate spend while considering uncertainty. This spreadsheet based-tool provides an easy way for local authorities to use Monte Carlo statistical modelling techniques.


Driving up performance through better commissioning (Bedfordshire) PDF (665 KB)

Bedfordshire developed a commissioning strategy to focus resources on earlier assessment, intervention and family support. Commissioning capacity was expanded, finance redistributed, new systems created, and choice and sustainability developed. Numbers of children in care and out-of-county placements were significantly reduced. (DCSF, Bedfordshire County Council, 2008)


Collaborative working to improve commissioning in children’s residential childcare (NCERCC) PDF (79.3 KB)

This case study outlines some of the work done by the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care (NCERCC) to improve commissioning in residential childcare and how this learning can be applied to other areas of commissioning. (CSP, 2009)

Shaping and managing the market

Efficiencies in looked after children services PDF (790 KB)

This presentation discusses efficiencies in looked-after children (LAC) services. It looks at the key areas where there are efficiencies in LAC services and features case studies on Coventry and the South West Peninsula. (Richard Selwyn, CSP, 2010)


Sub-regional placement commissioning (South West: Devon / Cornwall / Torbay) PDF (220 KB)

A sub-regional commissioning process is being set up across three local areas for children-in-care placements. The process is based on a tried and tested method developed in Devon that is already saving money and improving outcomes. (DCSF, Torbay Council, Cornwall Children & Young People's Partnership, Devon Children's Trust, 2008)


Getting a better deal – Assessing unit cost and engaging with the market (Blackpool) PDF (250 KB)

Blackpool faced rising costs on residential placements for children. This case study shows how the authority achieved annual savings of 400,000 by analysing its residential care provider market to establish a unit cost and changing the way it engaged with providers to establish longer-term relationships with them and renegotiate prices on the basis of the unit cost. (DCSF, Blackpool Council, 2008)


Improving commissioning and efficiency in fostering and residential services PDF (125 KB)

This case study looks at how East Riding tackled the issue of high numbers of children in external residential foster care. Key features include how they developed a business and commissioning team and ‘full cost’ foster care fees, covering expenses for clothing and so on to reduce transaction costs, and renegotiated placement fees based on the full cost of the placement rather than annual fees. The changes have resulted in reductions in use of agency foster care and in costs of foster care placement. (CSP, 2009)


National contracts for the placement of children and young people CSP webpage

DCSF, working with DH, has supported the development of standardised contracts to assist local authorities to improve and simplify their contracts with placement providers in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Three national contracts have now been published for: 

  • placing children in independent special schools (updated August 2008)
  • placing children in residential homes (November 2007)
  • for foster care placements (October 2008)

This page contains links to the contracts, plus supporting documents such as guidance, frequently asked questions and pricing schedules.


DCSF commercial group procurement information for commissioners Zip (3.41 MB)

This set of online support materials is designed to assist commissioners of children and young people services to facilitate the market and procure services. It makes the case that commissioners need to understand procurement, and includes guidance, case studies and toolkits on procurement such as specification writing, e-procurement and use of framework agreements. It includes a set of procurement standards and a glossary of terms. (DCSF, 2009)


Framework for the assessment of children in need and their families PDF (340 KB)

A robust needs assessment is the starting point for all commissioning decisions for an individual child or young person’s services. It informs the care plan, which sets out the outcomes that providers should be able to help a young person achieve. An incorrect decision at this point will lead to an inefficient or ineffective service. Good practice suggests that improvements in the capacity, quality or systems for assessment can have a large impact on outcomes and resources. The framework underpins social work practice with children and young people and sets out clear processes for assessment and planning. (Department of Health, Department for Education and Employment, Home Office, 2000)

Improving performance, monitoring and evaluating

Outcomes-based accountability: A brief summary PDF (226 KB)

This is a conceptual approach to planning services and assessing performance by focusing on outcomes achieved. (Gillian Pugh,  2008)


Cost calculator for children’s services website

The cost calculator has been developed by the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University. It is a software package to calculate the costs of social care processes and placements for looked-after children. It aims to facilitate comparisons between the relative value of different types of care, enabling commissioners to estimate the potential benefits of introducing a range of alternative packages. The model which underpins the CCfCS was developed as part of a research project that aimed to explore the relationship between costs and outcomes for looked-after children.


PSAs and national indicators and inspection

Information on the relevant public service agreements, national indicators and inspection frameworks which underpin the performance framework for services for looked-after children.


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