Co-production in social care: What it is and how to do it
Practice example: New Belongings
About the project
New Belongings is a project to improve the lives of care leavers. In mid-2015, 30 local authorities in England were part of the project which was designed and developed by the Care Leavers’ Foundation, the Care Leavers Ministerial Advisory Group, the Department for Education and the Minister for Children and Families.
This practice example is about the New Belongings project carried out by Cheshire East Council. It is a large unitary authority in the north west of England, which includes a mixture of affluent market towns and towns with high levels of deprivation. There are approximately 75,000 children living within its boundaries, around 20 per cent of the total population.
What has co-production meant to the project?
Co-production was an integral element of the project which was designed to make sure that care leavers and professionals were on a level playing field in its work.
The project works by engaging care leavers and making sure they are represented at a strategic level and influence all decisions.
Paula Swindlehurst, Interim Senior Improvement Manager, Cheshire East Council
‘By working with young people in a co-productive way it has “kept things real”, they offer something different that well intended professionals cannot achieve in quite the same way.’
What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?
The New Belongings approach is based on local authorities following a specific methodology. Care leavers are directly engaged in developing local plans based on the results of a broader consultation with the local leaving care population, on the current issues that they want addressed.
Partnerships with other relevant organisations has also been important. This includes the Children’s Rights Service, which was commissioned to run the Children in Care Council and has developed to include the Care Leavers’ Forum. The local authority has also supported two care leavers to set up their own business doing quality assurance visits to children’s homes with commissioning managers.
What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?
- Keeping the young people involved and focused. It can be challenging at times when a ‘raw nerve’ is touched by a discussion and it brings up strong feelings and opinions. Young people can give candid views and caution is needed when interpreting these as general views.
- Changes in staffing also had an impact on progress. When the two managers who lead on engagement left, there was a short time in which the work was dropped. This has been addressed by increasing capacity by having a cross-representation of managers from all levels involved, as well as personal advisors and people from other agencies. Champions were also identified to make sure particular areas of work were progressed.
- Supporting cultural change within the council and ensuring all sectors and wider community partnerships can be difficult to maintain.
- The geography of east Cheshire presented some problems. It is a rural area and there is limited access to transport – so it is expensive for people to get around. It means that there are extra costs for the council in supporting young people to take part in co-production and in their other activities like education and employment.
What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?
The New Belongings project has brought a range of strengths to the co-production approach.
New Belongings groups local authorities into ‘clusters’ to share practice developments and ways to overcome barriers, which has helped to speed up progress.
The clusters have care leavers directing an action plan alongside the professionals, which means everything is based on a co-production model. Care leavers from the different local authorities in the cluster also meet together at a regional forum.
Being part of New Belongings also brings the support of the Department for Education and ensures that the local authority’s chief executive is backing the work so that care leavers are a priority within the council.
What have been the main outcomes of the project?
The project has led to:
- The leaving care grant has been increased to £3,000.
- The creation of a new savings account with the credit union to assist young care leavers to save money – this is the first initiative of its kind.
- The provision of £20 grants in response to young people’s concerns about having cash to get essential items in their ‘first shop’ when moving into independent accommodation.
- Improved housing provision for care leavers and with more tenancies available to care leavers.
- The introduction of training for foster carers and personal assistants so they are better equipped to prepare care leavers for independent living.
- Support for young people to access employment, education and training, with an expanded offer of apprenticeships through local business and the introduction of a pre-apprenticeship scheme.
How has the project worked to engage all sections of the community?
It is recognised that more needs to be done to engage all sections of the community, including seldom heard groups and equality groups. Co-production has helped identify this and throughout the remainder of the project the aim is to increase their involvement.
We acknowledge that the engagement of wider society could be improved. In phase two of the project we will engage heavily with a wide range of community groups.
What advice would the project give to others?
- Involve a range of people in the work so it does not depend on the skills, knowledge and experience of specific people, which is lost if they move on.
- Make sure stakeholders have a role in developing action plans and monitoring progress.
- Approach co-production as a constantly evolving and improving way of working to reflect the local needs.
- If an idea fails, that does not mean co-production has failed. Go back to the drawing board and devise new solutions.
- The key thing is to listen to people who use services and work with them so they are always part of the solution. This applies to all people who use services in all communities, whether they are rural or urban.