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Will the Department for Education’s spend on evidence-gathering translate into better child social care?

23 November 2022

In a report today PAC examines the Department for Education’s £333 million programme to see what delivers best for children in the care system.

The 14-year evaluation of innovations in children’s social care is a long-term commitment to making sure that evidence is used to improve outcomes for children. The Committee is calling on the Department to demonstrate how the evidence it is gathering is leading to improvements on the front line. 

The PAC concludes that DfE has “further to go to embed a culture of evaluation in social care” so that the opportunities to secure better outcomes for children are not lost when dedicated funding for these innovation projects ends. Local authorities in England spend around £9 billion per year on children’s social care and the cost of evaluation is good value as it “will often be a mere ‘rounding error’ when compared to the scale of mainstream spending they can influence”, the committee concludes. 

The Innovation Programme was intended to improve outcomes for children in the social care system as well as producing savings. However, the Committee “is not yet convinced the Department’s dissemination of learning from the programme is delivering widespread improvement”.  

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care considers that the Innovation Programme’s ‘scale and spread’ approach is “limited” and there is “already enough evidence for investment in new approaches” and warning “the costs of inaction are too high”.  

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“The Department for Education has established a proper approach to assessing whether its new programmes will actually deliver better outcomes for children in the care system and the taxpayer. 

This is welcome. The test will be how it ensures that robust use of evidence to change the care system is not just a flash in the pan or dismissed as an expensive luxury at a time of cuts. It is vital that it is continued to make sure that these children receive the best support possible. 

“Reports of councils paying a million pounds a year, of taxpayers’ money, for a residential place for a single child with complex needs are a reminder of the cost to the taxpayer, and not always an indicator that the young person is getting the right support. In an historic public spending squeeze, getting better outcomes for the money spent is a win-win that we all want to see.” 

Further information

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