Case study: Dorset County Council Foster Service
Client: Dorset County Council
Date: August 2019 – February 2020
Challenges faced by the client: Dorset Council, like many Local Authorities across the country, has experienced increased financial pressures, levels of demand and complexity of needs. This was particularly true for their Looked After Children (LAC) Fostering Service, which had seen a significant increase in the number of LAC coupled with a decrease in the number of in-house, quality foster carers. This continued to place the service under significant pressure.
Alongside these factors, a high proportion of their LAC population was placed outside of the LA area resulting in poorer outcomes and higher costs. Dorset Council also had increased levels of investment in the service, but improvements were yet to be demonstrated, with the total spend on fostering remaining significantly over budget. These factors meant that continuing with the existing approach was no longer an option and a change in the way LAC Fostering was delivered was required.
Support offered: We supported Dorset Council to consider a variety of options for delivering LAC Fostering differently. The focus of this work was to identify the best approach to improve the sustainability of the service while also driving improvements. The findings showed a strong case for externalisation of the service with the option to establish a new entity in partnership with another organisation identified as the preferred way forward. By establishing a partnership with commercial expertise, it was felt this would give the service access to a wider network and skills to innovate and improve the service through increased autonomy and rapid decision making. Furthermore, the commercial leadership from the partner could enable the service to grow and operate more commercially with the ability to access new revenue streams.
As a result of this, it was agreed that this option would be considered in more detail through an Outline Business Case (OBC) based on the five-case model. Alongside this, we also conducted service design work focusing on the most challenging areas for the service and market testing to understand the market’s appetite for a possible partnership with a LA to deliver the fostering service. This evidenced the need for large scale transformation of the service, and that the partnership model could bring greater expertise from a partner organisation, increased flexibility for changing demand, and increased commercial freedom.
Finally, a Full Business Case explored in detail the establishment of the partnership. This included an in-depth analysis of service and financial data, and advising the Council on the most suitable process for procuring a partner. MV assisted in identifying a preferred procurement route, organising a market engagement event, planning conversations with suppliers and organising a workshop with staff to inform a fostering strategy.
Outcome achieved: Our work with Dorset Council evidenced the need for the LAC Fostering Service to change and move to a partnership approach with an organisation with expertise in fostering and set out a roadmap for implementing this. We provided the Council with key recommendations, which would be crucial to drive service improvements and best position the service to attract a partner organisation in the future.
Through our engagement with service providers, it was clear that there were high levels of interest from the market in a partnership with the Council. However, as new and innovative approaches to delivering the service were required, there was a strong emphasis on the procurement process. As a result of this, we also recommended that a thorough analysis was carried out to identify the best procurement route to identify a future partner. Although we supported Dorset to prepare a strong business case for the model, they ultimately decided it was not the right time to take forward the partnership due to Covid-19. The Council are planning to implement the recommended service improvements drawing on the design work undertaken by MV.