In November 2017, the Department for Education announced that CASCADE would be its Research Partner for the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care. Nesta were awarded a contract to help incubate and deliver the Centre itself.
It’s been nearly three years since then, and much has changed. The What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care has been renamed and firmly established as an independent charity. CASCADE’s formal status as Research Partner has ended. We are now, along with several other organisations, members of the What Works for Children’s Social Care Panel of Evaluators. Partners in research, if you will, but no longer the Research Partner.
But what a fruitful relationship it has been so far. With support from Nesta and latterly from the WWC itself, CASCADE researchers have worked hard to deliver a series of new empirical projects, including – Devolved Budgets, the Experiences of Young People with Care Experience in Higher Education, Outcomes-Focused Supervision, Schwartz Rounds and Social Workers in Schools. Through these projects, we’ve explored things like how devolving budgets to social workers can enable more creative interventions with families and how placing social workers in schools can help reduce the rate of statutory intervention in private family life. The pilot of social workers in schools in particular has helped to lay the ground-work for a much larger study of the intervention, to find out whether and how it works ‘at scale’.
We’ve also completed a host of high-quality reviews of existing evidence, including – a systematic review of shared decision making meetings, a mixed methods systematic review of Signs of Safety, a systematic review and meta-analysis of intensive family preservation services, a rapid realist review of good practice for involving families in decision-making, a rapid evidence assessment of how family budget changes affect children being in care and an exploratory analysis of rates of children in care in England. These reviews have helped to highlight both the extent and complexity of the existing social work knowledge base but also where some of the key gaps are.
In addition, we helped develop the WWC’s outcomes-framework and the Evidence Store, which now includes more than 30 summaries of the evidence in relation to a whole range of different interventions and ways of working.
Despite all this activity, it still feels as if we are only just at the start of a national experiment to find out what difference a greater investment in and focus on evaluative research can do for the sector and ultimately for children and families.
While CASCADE’s role as formal Research Partner has ended, we look forward to playing our part in this exciting adventure.