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.

‘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.’

Paula Swindlehurst, Interim Senior Improvement Manager, Cheshire East Council

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?

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:

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?