A new 'action learning' set, devised by the National Children's Bureau (NCB) with support from the Department for Education, shows how children's services can reinvigorate the support they provide for children returning home after a period spent in local authority care.
Returning home after being in care, or 'reunification', is a common outcome for looked-after children, yet research shows it too often breaks down, with a significant risk of the child suffering a repetition of abuse or neglect.
In order to improve how children's services coordinate reunification, the Department for Education commissioned NCB to bring together social care staff from a wide cross-section of local authorities in 'action learning sets'.
Action learning enables staff representing every tier of the local authority, both managers and front line practitioners, to develop a shared understanding of research on reunification and how this is reflected within their own area. Combining their local knowledge with good-practice from other authorities, participants developed a fresh vision for their services and outlined a clear plan for bringing about practical and sustainable improvements.
The toolkit outlines the examples, exercises and research used within the action learning workshops with seven local authorities. It shows how the programme built incrementally, from developing a firm foundation for the service, through implementation and evaluation of an action plan, to strategies for maintaining momentum in the long run.
Enver Solomon, Director of Evidence and Impact at the National Children's Bureau said:
'We are beginning to know more about children returning home from care: both the number of children affected and the most effective ways of supporting them. The action learning approach we have used with local authorities enables staff to interpret the evidence for themselves, bringing their local knowledge to the table as they work out ways to do things better. Children being reunited with their families are vulnerable; this approach can inspire local authorities to do their utmost to protect them, increasing the chance that the move can be permanent.'
The toolkit is being published alongside a study by NCB and the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University which identifies key success factors that need to be in place for local authorities to be able to utilise existing research evidence in the development and implementation of their own policy and practice. In addition, a report presenting key findings from the evaluation of the learning sets is also available, and highlights lessons for the application of peer learning approaches in local authorities.
Improving Practice in Returning Children Home from Care: facilitating and sustaining practice and service changeis available from:https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/children-who-return-home-from-care-improving-practice