The Brighter Futures Programme in Birmingham – An inspiring initiative with good results and failures.…
In 2006 a National legislation came into force emphasising that Every child matters and better outcomes for children. This encompassed a restructuring of the system merging the education and social work departments into the National Children’s centres.
Birmingham counts over a million people and is challenged by a high unemployment rate (30%), 30% lone parents, 23% of the population below 16 years old, 30% of the people from minority ethnic communities and 1900 children in care.
In line with the changes in national legislation, senior managers of all Birmingham’s children’s services agencies were brought together in a cross agency Children and Young People’s Board. This collaboration has led towards the Brighter Futures Programme which is a long term strategy for improving children’s outcomes.
The Brighter Futures Programme was designed to measurably improve the physical health behaviour, emotional health, literacy and numeracy, and social literacy of Birmingham’s children over a five year period starting in 2008.
All the discussions about the strategy have started with child outcomes and then activities – policies, services and programmes – that might produce these outcomes. Important factors in the development of the Brighter Futures Programme were:
- National legislation on Every child matters and the development of five outcomes as the focus of all organisations working with children;
- The creation of the City Council Directorate for Children, Young People and Families and the policy initiative creating a brighter future for Children and Young people;
- The development of one vision for child outcomes and the selection of activities that will deliver these outcomes;
- The strategy was backed up by strong logic, the best evidence on the well-being of local children and reliable information on what works, for whom, when and why;
- The brighter Futures Programme supported increased use of evidence based programmes with proven impact on child outcome, and stressed attention to improving parenting. It selected four evidence based programmes (Family Nurse Partnership, Incredible Years, PATHS and Triple -P;
Another interesting aspect is that the children and young people’s strand in the Brighter Futures Strategy is part of the city council business transformation programme. The business transformation methodology is planned to tie interested stakeholders to invest in programmes that saves money in the future. This accrues for more efficient working practices. The approach also incorporates project management routines to ensure that work is delivered on time, on budget and in line with original goals.
- Birmingham has better quality data on child well-being and services received than any other English local authority. These data will give clear indications of trends in child well-being in the city and is an opportunity to embed future collection of this data into business as usual.
- The ‘ invest to save’ element of the Brighter Futures strategy led to the development of an economic model that predicts the financial benefits of competing investment options in children’s services. This model is greatly valued by central government in the UK and is worth to further explore by BvLF.
- The local authority delivered a set of programmes at each stage of child development.
- The results of evaluations show significant impacts on child outcomes particularly for pre-school children. Birmingham shows that it is possible to take a model from abroad and achieve positive outcomes for the UK but also reveals that this is only the case in 2 out of 4 programmes.
- The most significant failing was to move the strategy from piloting to ‘business as usual’. The evidence-based programmes were seen as prevention and early intervention, separate from the main business of supporting children. When child protection failures were identified in mainstream services, Brighter Futures was viewed as an unhelpful distraction rather that a core part of the solution.
- Not all evidence based programmes were successful. There was a lack of fidelity to such an extent that the programme could not be delivered as it was intended. The Triple P programme did not have impact on child outcomes nor did the PATH programme. The ability to maintain high quality implementation when proven models are taken to scale is a critical factor in their potential contribution to better child health and development.
- The strategy seeks to invest 42 million pounds in new prevention and early intervention services with the goal of cashable benefits of 102 million pounds over a 10 year period.
Although there is evidence that some implementation programmes have improved child outcomes and that there will be potential economic benefits as a result of reduced demand for local authority services for example, the failure to implement a rigorous benefit realisation strategy, means that economic returns are not realised yet.
Birmingham 28th of March 2012
For further reading, download the full reports below.