Frequently asked questions about local authority children's services improvement. 

 What is improvement support and why is it important?

All local authorities, with their children’s services partners, need to focus on securing better outcomes for children, young people and families. Support and challenge, from within and outside the authority, are crucial to local authority improvement. Activity comprises expert advisers, sharing good practice, and online support. It covers action to address areas needing improvement, such as safeguarding, as well as the implementation of new policies.

 How will the new system make high quality data available for local authorities to assess performance?

The new system will use data to improve performance through in-depth LA data profiles, developed by the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (C4EO). LAs and peer challengers will be able to access these. C4EO have consulted on them.

The profiles will link directly to the metrics drawn from the single data list used by the Department to measure the impact of policies and performance.

 How can we ensure a consistent approach across Government?

We are working with the Department of Health, Cabinet Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as at a local level. This will help us secure a common approach to, for example, supporting work with families with multiple problems. The Local Government Group is also coordinating activity across the sector.

 How will the model be funded?

As this is a sector-led model, we expect it to become self-financing in due course. For example, local authority senior officers will give and receive peer challenge, and specialists will provide improvement support that the receiving authority may fund. Some support and challenge, such as peer review and expertise from the voluntary, community and private sectors will need to be funded. The Department is providing some £10.5m in 2011/12 to support development and implementation. Decisions on longer term funding have not yet been made.

 What will the Department do if the system fails?

No system can remove the risk of failure. But we do expect it to identify issues earlier and deal with them. We, along with the local government sector, anticipate the model will lead to more open, transparent and effective improvement through self assessment and peer review, reducing the need for departmental intervention. Ministers will retain the power to intervene where there is significant failure, and that may include outsourcing local authority functions. Where failure has been identified, the Department will work closely with the sector on appropriate improvement measures, with the intention that the sector take responsibility for those arrangements.

 How will we know if the system is working?

The Children’s Improvement Board will monitor the system to make sure it meets requirements, and will report regularly to ministers. Evaluation of the early adopter phase, which was rolled out from July 2011, will determine whether the system is working effectively.

 What has happened to CSP and C4EO?

Funding for the Commissioning Support Programme (CSP) ended on 31 March 2011 when its three-year contract with the Department expired. The programme leaves an active legacy of commissioning practitioners able to support one another, and the commissioners’ kitbag of practical resources. 

The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (C4EO) continues to provide improvement support to local authorities as part of the development of the new sector-led support system. C4EO received a three-year grant from the Department to collate evidence of what works best in the delivery of children’s services and to build capacity in local areas. Funding ended on 31 March 2011.