A fundamental review of services for children

How can local authorities work together better to improve children’s outcomes and create a more innovative, responsive, and sustainable system for delivery?

Local authority: Salford City Council, representing the 10 Greater Manchester (GM) local authorities

How can local authorities (LA) work together better to improve children’s outcomes and create a more innovative, responsive, and sustainable system for delivery? The 10 LAs across GM have been collaborating on a new operating model for children’s services, making the most of the Devolution opportunity, with aims of significantly improving outcomes for children. The foundation of the model is investment into delivering better early intervention and prevention – in particular, early years and early help – to reduce the rising numbers of children who are looked after by 20% overall, improve their outcomes, and achieve efficiency gains equivalent to £75m.

The challenge

There is a challenge of rising demand, rising costs, shrinking budgets, poor outcomes, and significant variation for children across Greater Manchester. GM’s 10 authority areas share as many similarities as they do differences in terms of demographics, economic performance, health, and education outcomes for their children. They needed to work out how to capitalise on the opportunity of devolution - to combine, standardise, and improve services to address the challenge. 

The solution 

GM’s 10 authorities joined forces to move from collaboration on an ad hoc basis to form a programme, sponsored by all 10 directors of children’s services, to review all of children’s services across GM and develop the programme to transform them. We were ably supported by KPMG to evidence and document the stark case for change, and turned those challenges into opportunities for transformation across 7 core areas:

  • Looked after children – Creating a GM wide strategy for looked after children to ensure sufficiency and permanency, and quality provision regardless of locality.  Includes development of a single, quality care leavers’ offer across all of GM and ensuring Edge of Care support is consistent and of quality across the patch.
  • Complex safeguarding – Developing a centre of excellence based on existing evidence base, research, and global experience.  Designing a hub and spoke model for delivery across GM to ensure the best expertise is delivered in the most efficient way to keep GM’s children safe and not duplicated.
  • Integrated healthcare – Working closely with NHS colleagues to ensure mental health, learning disability and other support is present in schools, early years, early help, and youth offending offers to be more rounded.  Building clearer and stronger connections with healthcare professionals to support children with issues but who sit below thresholds for acute services, and to divert them from this pathway if possible.
  • Early help – Investing in asset-based approaches across localities, supporting staff to have asset-based conversations, and building clear links to early help support accessible from all parts of the system so that issues can be supported as soon as they are identified.
  • Early years and education – Investing in GM’s early years model to improve the consistency and quality of our offer across GM, including a pilot to allow schools more influence over age 2+ provision to support more children being ready for school; and strengthening with early help to bring in support more effectively for those that need it.  We are also forming an Education and Employability Board to drive forward the skills and employability agenda, sponsoring a number of pilot initiatives across GM with potential to be scaled up.
  • Youth offending – Scaling up a number of services that can be delivered once for all of GM: commissioning, health commissioning, courts, specialised youth magistrates team, developing alternatives to sentencing.  Additionally, developing wrap-around support with education, health, and partnership for young people in the local secure estate to improve their transition back to communities; and maintaining stronger links with early help to ensure there is an integrated youth offer.
  • Quality assurance – Working with DfE to create a GM quality and performance framework, in support of a sector- and intelligence- led QA.  Also becoming a ‘national pathfinder’ with alignment to Alan Wood’s national review of LSCBs.

We are delivering a programme of change that is predicated on strong investment in early years, early help and early intervention to prevent children’s needs escalating in later years.  As well, we are working hard to make sure that children and families are able to access quality information and support to meet their needs regardless of which locality they are from.

The impact 

In the long term, we anticipate a significant impact on outcomes across the following areas, many of which will also equate to financial savings for authorities.


Suggested performance indicator

Early years

  • % improved school readiness.
  • % Good Level of Development.
  • % of school pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs
  • % of school pupils with speech, language or communication needs
  • % of early help cases stepped up to Specialist children’s services
  • Rate of referrals to Specialist Children's Services per 10,000 of the 0-18 population (rolling 12 months)
  • Number of cases closed by Early Help units

Education: primary and secondary key stages performance

  • % of people who are persistently absent from primary/secondary schools
  • % of permanent/fixed term exclusions from primary/secondary schools – all pupils
  • % of children achieving age related expectations at 2-2 ½ years

Looked after children performance

  • Total numbers of looked after children
  • Total cost of looked after children population
  • % of looked after children with 3 moves or more (placement stability)
  • % of looked after children in a permanent placement
  • Amount of time children have been on list for adoption (average and range)
  • % of cases closed with a positive outcome
  • % of youth justice case load which are children in care
  • % of LAC on the edge of care that have physical and mental health issues
  • % of LAC that develop physical and mental health issues

Performance of disadvantaged children (including youth offending, children with disabilities)

  • Number of first time entrants to the youth justice provision (aged 10-17)
  • Rate of re-offending by CYP (aged 10-17)
  • % of eligible 2 year olds taking up their free entitlement place in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ settings
  • % children with disabilities in full time EET (up to age 25)

Quality of provision

  • Percentage of young offenders of school age in full time education
  • Number of educational settings judged by Ofsted to be Inadequate.
  • Number of educational settings judged by Ofsted as Requires Improvement.

Workforce: recruitment, retention, quality staff

  • Ratio of staff/administrators to children in care
  • Ratio of agency vs. permanent staff
  • Turnover rates
  • Number of NQT departures per year
  • Number of teachers working through threshold and to senior management
  • Workforce development measures TBC (including cultural change and integrated working)


  • % of apprenticeship starts vs % achievements (In 2014/15, there were 499,900 apprenticeship starts in England, 59,500 (14%) more than the previous year. Achievements increased by 1% (2,900) over the same period to 255,800 achievements.)
  • % of students progressing to higher education (In the UK in 2014/15, the progression rate for those proceeding to study HE immediately following their college course averaged 34% increasing to 48% when tracked over a number of years)
  • % of drop outs during college vs % of drop outs at 18
  • % of 16-18 cohort that are NEET
  • % of young offenders post statutory school age in full time EET

User experience

  • User satisfaction measures TBC

Health and mental health

  • Performance on selected public health indicators
  • Number of child mental health admissions to CAMHS
  • Number of U18 A&E admissions for MH reasons

Early Help

  • Percentage of 0-5 living in the 30% most deprived LSOAs registered with a Children's Centre
  • Percentage of 0-5 living in the 30% most deprived LSOAs attending a Children's Centre
  • Percentage of 0-5 with Current Social Services involvement known to a Children Centre
  • Percentage of 14-18 with Current Social Services involvement known to the Youth Service
  • Percentage of pupils who are persistently absent from primary schools - all pupils
  • Percentage of pupils who are persistently absent from secondary schools - all pupils
  • Number of permanent and fixed term exclusions from primary schools - all pupils
  • Number of permanent and fixed term exclusions from secondary schools - all pupils

Financial savings

  • Trend in total spend on services by area/theme (quarterly, annual)
  • Performance against annual projected/budgeted savings
  • Trend in care spend for looked after children (annual)


How is the new approach being sustained?

DCS’ from all 10 authorities have signed up and committed to specific initiatives within each of the 7 priority areas, each taking on leadership for specific areas.  We have sought investment funding from the DfE into GM as a whole, to deliver on the programme, and are awaiting a response on being able to pump prime areas requiring investments described above.  In the meantime, we are progressing implementation of those areas we can deliver without additional funding, such as early years, early help, and youth offending.

Lessons learned

  • Utilise examples of best practice – both national and international, we were inspired by a number of international examples of delivery from the likes of Australia, Canada and others
  • Do not under estimate the importance of good programme management and governance – leadership, accountability, understanding interdependencies, and a programme management office that drives and maintains momentum
  • Strong working relationships have been the backbone to the collegiate working on this programme, and all partners have been willing to engage difficult conversations and give up areas of ‘sovereignty’ for the purpose of achieving the shared goal.
  • Importance of having adequate capacity and capability to create momentum and drive the programme forward – this won’t happen without dedicated resource and owners for a programme of any size.
  • Recognising the need to prioritise and being willing to make trade-offs – we can’t deliver everything at once, and need clear criteria to support making decisions about what the prioritise for now and what to pick up later on.
  • Strong and consistent communication to the system is critical, so that everyone understands what you are trying to achieve and where they fit in.



Bright Futures

Bright Futures

Helping children and young people to fulfil their potential is a key ambition of all councils, but our children’s services are under increasing pressure. 

Bright Futures is our call for fully funded children's services.

Find out more