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Case study: Understanding the financial impact of care proceedings on children's social care

Updated: Apr 24

Mutual Ventures was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to undertake a national programme of work to better understand the impact of delays in care proceedings on children’s social care. We also presented our findings on how the family justice system could work better together to improve outcomes for children and families.


  • Financial Impact Estimation Tool rolled out to 69 Local Authorities and Children’s Trusts

  • In-depth interviews carried out with 56 Local Authorities and Children’s Trusts

  • Four learning events attended by nearly 300 people

  • National expansion of a pilot that we’d conducted in six local areas

Challenges faced by the client:

Court delays have a significant impact on children’s social care. Money that could have been spent on interventions and preventative services is wasted – with vulnerable children and families suffering as a result.

As part of an ongoing partnership, we were commissioned by the DfE in autumn 2022, to undertake a programme of work to better understand the impact of care proceeding delays on children’s social care.

Our aim was to analyse the financial impact of these delays – an area which hadn’t previously been researched or fully understood.

The project was a national expansion of a pilot that we had already conducted in six areas, earlier in 2022. It supported the Government’s commitment, presented in its response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, to provide all local authorities with access to a financial modelling tool, in order to better understand the financial impact of court delays, identify potential efficiencies, and ultimately improve outcomes for children.

Support offered:

  • We have rolled out the Financial Impact Estimation Tool to 69 local authorities and children’s trusts in total. This has involved introducing the financial modelling tool and walking local authorities through how to populate, use it and quantify the impact of care proceedings delays on their individual authorities based on their local set-ups. We provided follow-up support to local authorities as they populated their versions of the tool, including providing technical support and ad hoc data cleansing to ensure their local data was captured within the structure of the tool as seamlessly as possible.

  • We have developed a Power BI care proceedings benchmarking tool, collating publicly available data on care proceedings as well as contextual information on local areas in one place.

  • We have held qualitative diagnostic interviews with 56 local authorities and children’s trusts, to ask deeper questions of those authorities to identify the potential root causes of delays and examples of good practice in different areas. We have also engaged widely with stakeholders from across the family justice system, including Designated Family Judges, Cafcass, children and families. This broad stakeholder engagement allowed us to establish a national-level evidence base from all the parts of this system.

  • We carried out three deep dives with court systems, focusing on in-depth exploration of how key stakeholders within each system work together. The aim was to identify both good practice and persisting challenges, convene stakeholders across the system to discuss cross-system issues, and explore ways in which they could progress towards a ‘one system’ mindset.

  • We developed a comprehensive report with recommendations on how the family justice system as a whole could work more closely together to improve outcomes for children. The project findings were presented to the Family Justice Board.

  • We held four learning events summarising our findings and highlighting best practice case studies. The events were attended by nearly 300 individuals. These are available to watch online:

The impact

Local authorities now have a powerful tool to help them monitor and understand the impact of care proceeding delays on their children’s services:

"The tool is helpful - It's helped push us on with our thinking about capturing the number of hearings per case. It will also be helpful with our invest to save proposals, and would've been helpful for our budget setting processes last year as we were trying to quantify our overspends."

- Newham Council

More broadly, this work supported stakeholders from across the family justice system in their thinking about how to measure, monitor and finally streamline public law cases, improving outcomes for children and ensuring cost efficiency in the long term. It also provided an evidence base to inform policy recommendations at the local and national level, an understanding what is causing delays, and how they can be addressed through a cross-system approach.

Our findings show that through the efficient use of resources and mature cross-system leadership, more money could be released to the wider system and spent on preventative services and pre-proceedings with an aim to divert cases from courts and improve outcomes.

However, tackling delays may require an 'invest to save' approach to implement and embed new initiatives and support more collaborative working arrangements. We have developed 23 detailed recommendations to support action going forward.


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