Evaluation of transformational reforms to family help and children’s social care begins

National Children’s Bureau to work with Verian and Alma Economics on the evaluation of major family help and social care reform programmes.

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) is joining Verian and Alma Economics in a five-year independent evaluation of pioneering reforms to family help and children’s social care. The findings of the evaluation will influence future national strategy on how best to meet the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable families and children.

The Families First for Children Pathfinder and Family Network Pilot schemes have been established by the Department for Education as part of the Government’s Stable Homes, Built on Love strategy for children’s social care. They will test out key reforms, drawing on evidence and existing good practice from other government programmes, to protect children from harm and offer the right help to families at the earliest opportunity.

The first wave of local areas participating in the Pathfinder are Dorset, Lincolnshire, and Wolverhampton, testing system transformation in four key areas: family help, child protection, family-led solutions, and multi-agency safeguarding arrangements.

Separately, the Family Network Pilot is testing the introduction of Family Network Support Packages. Family Network Support Packages will look at how to unlock barriers to enable family networks to provide support for children to stay safely at home, when it is in their best interests, through financial and other practical means. The pilot is taking place in seven local authorities: Brighton and Hove, Sunderland, Gateshead, and Telford and Wrekin, with Staffordshire, Hartlepool, Hammersmith, and Fulham, starting delivery in summer 2024.

While this element of reform is also included in the Pathfinder, the objective of running a standalone pilot is to understand the impact of this policy and build an evidence base by testing the reform in isolation. This will allow policymakers to gain a best-practice evidence base and clarify tangible outcomes from the pilot’s proposed system changes, which will inform future decision-making and policy implementation.

The evaluation team is committed to taking on board the voices of families and children with lived experience, ensuring that the beneficiaries of the programme are heard.

Verian, Alma Economics, and NCB bring unique insight and expertise to ensure the delivery of an objective, evidence-driven, and robust evaluation of this policy programme.

The early work of the evaluation partners will be to establish a clear methodology and success criteria for the evaluation. This includes co-designing the evaluation strategy with our different stakeholders. The evaluation team is engaging with wider governmental and sector partners, providing analytical expertise, offering independent advice and guidance, and developing an ethical evaluation approach which is adaptive to the challenges and sensitivities of the children’s social care sector.

The careful evaluation of different ways of providing children’s social care are a necessary next step in responding to the findings from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. We look forward to collaborating with the local areas taking this work forward, and sharing findings as they emerge.

Anna Feuchtwang

CEO, National Children's Bureau

The Families First for Children Pathfinder and Family Network Pilot programmes represent an opportunity to test out new approaches to transform support for the nation’s most vulnerable children and families. Following a competitive process, we have appointed Verian, Alma Economics, and the National Children’s Bureau to evaluate the programmes. We look forward to seeing their findings.

Department for Education

Verian is very excited to be leading this highly important evaluation, with our partners, Alma Economics and the National Children’s Bureau. Through our dynamic and rigorous evaluation approach, we aim to deliver vital learnings on the design and delivery of the programme and its impact on children and families, which will contribute to the effective implementation of the Government’s children’s social care strategy, ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’.

Alex Hurrell

Head of Evaluation, Verian

We are delighted to be working alongside our partners Verian and the National Children’s Bureau to deliver this important evaluation that will play a vital role in guiding the implementation of the Stable Homes, Built on Love strategy. Alma will lead the economic and impact evaluation of the Families First for Children Pathfinder and Family Network Pilot schemes, drawing on our extensive experience conducting robust evaluations, including specifically in the area of children’s social care. This includes key contributions to the landmark Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.

Nick Spyropoulos

Managing Director, Alma Economics


About the Families First for Children Pathfinder, and Family Network Pilots

Families First for Children Pathfinder

The FFC Pathfinder was announced in February 2023 as part of the government’s children’s social care implementation strategy, Stable Homes, Built on Love. It responds to recommendations from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel report on child protection in England and the Competitions and Market Authority’s market study of children’s social care provision. The Pathfinder will test the delivery of key strategy commitments.

From July 2023 to March 2025, the programme is investing over £45 million to design and test radical reforms in a number of local areas, across the following policies:

  • family help
  • child protection
  • family network support packages (FNSPs) and increased use of family group decision making
  • safeguarding partners

The Pathfinder draws on evidence and existing good practice, including from other government programmes:

The new end-to-end system will include four key elements:

  • locally based, multi-disciplinary family help services, providing intensive, non-stigmatising and effective support that is tailored to the needs of children and families.
  • a child protection response carried out by social workers with greater expertise and experience, and access to dedicated and skilled multi-agency input, working with family help to protect children who are suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm.
  • greater use of family networks, with increased use of family group decision-making, facilitated by FNSPs to remove any financial or practical barriers family networks may face.
  • updated and strengthened local multi-agency leadership through changes to safeguarding partner arrangements.

As these changes will have a significant impact on frontline delivery, DfE is co-designing the new systems with local areas and taking a ‘test and learn’ approach to delivery ahead of any further roll-out. DfE will regularly share insights from the programme with the wider sector and partners to support all areas to progress towards our service transformation vision.

Family Network pilot

Of the £45 million, £7.8 million has been allocated to fund a separate Family Network pilot in seven additional local authorities. The Family Network pilot is testing the impact of providing flexible funding for extended family networks through family network support packages (FNSPs) to help keep families together and children out of care where appropriate.

The pilot will prioritise family-led solutions by increasing the use of family group decision-making and testing the introduction of FNSPs – a recommendation made by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.

FNSPs will look at how to reduce the barriers to family networks playing a more active role in providing loving, safe and stable homes for children. This will be done by providing support for children to stay safely at home, through financial and other practical means.

This element of reform will be included as part of the wider Pathfinder, but we are also running the standalone pilot to understand the impact of this policy in isolation.

National partners – Delivery Partner

Mutual Ventures, with Innovation Unit, is working as a delivery partner. They are supporting Pathfinder and pilot areas with local delivery, and collecting and sharing learning as it emerges from the programme.

National partners - Evaluation

The evaluation will assess the implementation, delivery, impact, and value for money of the reforms between 2023 and 2028.

Early evaluation findings will be published in spring 2025. Depending on the continuation of funding for the next Spending Review period, long-term evaluation findings will be published on an annual basis between spring 2026 and spring 2028.

The FFC Pathfinder is a complex whole system reform. Therefore, the early stages of the evaluation will predominately focus on and support implementation and delivery. The long-term evaluation is designed to provide quantitative impact estimates. This builds on prior successful evaluations such as the Troubled Families programme evaluation, the Innovation Programme, and the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme, which show it takes time for robust quantitative impact estimates to be identified.

In addition to the independent evaluation, DfE will work closely with Pathfinder and pilot LAs, with the Delivery Partner, to collect insights and perceptions of how the Pathfinder and pilot are working throughout delivery.


About Stable Homes, Built on Love

  • On 2 February 2023, DfE published Stable Homes, Built on Love, an implementation strategy and consultation setting out plans to reform children’s social care, backed by £200m additional investment.
  • Three reviews published in 2022 provided impetus and vision to transform children’s social care:
    • The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care
    • The National Review into the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson 
    • The Competition & Markets Authority Study into Children’s Social Care Placements
  • The strategy sets out a vision to rebalance children’s social care away from costly crisis intervention to more meaningful and effective early support.
  • It sets out actions that seek to address urgent issues facing children and families now, lay the foundations for whole system reform and set national direction for change.

About the National Children’s Bureau

For more than 50 years, the National Children’s Bureau has worked to champion the rights of children and young people in the UK. We interrogate policy and uncover evidence to shape future legislation and develop more effective ways of supporting children and families. As a leading children’s charity, we take the voices of children to the heart of Government, bringing people and organisations together to drive change in society and deliver a better childhood for the UK. We are united for a better childhood.

For more information visit www.ncb.org.uk

About Verian

Verian is a world leading, independent research, evidence, evaluation, and communications agency, providing services to government and the public realm. We work with our clients to help solve the next generation of public policy challenges.

With offices across Europe, APAC and in the US, our consultants and researchers are supported by our unique global data ecosystem. We provide gold standard data on the economy and society to decision makers and engage directly with many millions of citizens each year on their behalf. Combining expertise in human understanding with advanced technologies and data science, our work with clients creates policy interventions, designs better public services, and unlocks behaviour change.

We support the rapid development of policy thinking in moments of urgency. We implement policies on the ground. We build communications to reach diverse and complex audiences. We bring global best practice and local expertise.


About Alma Economics

Alma Economics combines unparalleled analytical expertise with the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly. We are a team of economists, data scientists, social researchers, web developers, and creatives working together on some of the most critical issues facing our society today.