I’m Sophie, Head of Service for Children’s Strategy and Improvement at Nottingham City Council with a lead for the local Priority Families (aka Troubled Families) Programme. I’m responsible for service transformation, improvement and inspection-readiness across early help, targeted and social care services in the city, so this blog post touches on how our local programme interacts with the broader change and transformation agenda.
As local authorities – and as a part of broader children’s support services – we’re all facing the same challenges of financial constraints, reductions in our capacity and that of our partners. As a result, we all know that Troubled Families funding can be vital because it underpins many of our front-line services. However, it can sometimes be difficult to see the benefits of what can seem like an onerous and bureaucratic process – Payment by Results (PbR).
So, I wanted to take the opportunity to share our experience of PbR and explain how partners in Nottingham City are really starting to benefit from the data and intelligence that we’re now gathering as a result of our PbR process.
How we’re getting on with PbR claims
To date, we’ve made 766 successful PbR claims and we had a recent spot check where (thankfully!) all our claims were confirmed as valid by DCLG. We look at our PbR and audit process as an extra opportunity to quality-assure the work that we’re doing with families and to evidence its impact. This work forms a key part of our learning and improvement framework across the Children’s Services Department and for our wider partnerships.
How does PbR help?
I’m not going to beat about the bush. Yes, it’s time-consuming. And yes, we’re still hoping to automate more of the checks in future. But the learning from our PbR and audit process has informed practice change and improvements, like our exciting plans around accredited workforce development opportunities for our family support colleagues.
Learning from our Priority Families Programme is one of the key building blocks that has helped to shape and improve our early help and targeted services. When Ofsted conducted a pilot inspection in Nottingham City earlier this year we were really proud that the feedback reported ‘outstanding’ services and I really believe that it’s our relentless focus, checked and challenged by our PbR process, which highlighted the difference whole-family working can make. That clearly shone through for inspectors.
We all know that the mainstream data reporting requirements to the Department for Education are significant. We also know that these returns only really focus on our statutory services. The focus is often placed on measuring outputs and timeliness rather than answering the questions that really keep us awake at night, like ‘how can we measure the difference that we make for the families we serve’ and ‘how can we assure ourselves, and other key stakeholders, about the quality of our practice?’.
But these questions are increasingly important as Children’s Services have to justify continued investment in our services – often a larger and larger slice of a smaller and smaller cake in many local authorities and across local public-sector partnerships. In Nottingham City we’re now gathering a wealth of intelligence through the PbR process about the outcomes and impact of our intervention that is helping us to show, on a family-by-family level, where we’re making a real impact.
What’s the impact for families in Nottingham?
In order to capture this work, we implemented a reportable baseline and clear closure sign-off for our Priority Families cases. This clear tracking helps us to show schools and other partners the range of needs at the start of our intervention and where those needs have been met after our intervention. We’re now able to say that the families we have claimed PbR for (those whose support and intervention has met all of the Troubled Families principles) are less likely to be reallocated to services than those who haven’t received whole family support.
These tools are all being used multiple times, in various forums, to really bring to life how we’re improving the lives of the families we work with, the wider communities they live in and how, if we properly embed this way of working, this can relieve the pressure on public sector spend in the longer term.
Some might call me a sucker for punishment but the news that the new financial framework will retain PbR, with the added option of earned autonomy, makes me really excited about the opportunity we’ve got to continue establishing Nottingham City’s evidence base.
PbR gives us opportunity to keep building family-level impact measures that help us to articulate the benefits of whole family working and the importance of preserving the services that we can prove are making the biggest difference to children and families in Nottingham City.
I know that there are a range of views about PbR, and colleagues in other areas are using both the data and the payments themselves in very different ways. I’d be interested to hear more about people’s views and approaches in the comments below.