The importance of measuring outcomes

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Mark Kerr is lead partner at the Centre for Outcomes of Care and lectures at the University of Kent. Predominantly he is a researcher and strategist who specialises in the development of evidence based service designs and associated outcome frameworks. Mark has a distinct focus on outcomes for looked after children and care leavers regularly challenging policymakers and practitioners to improve their use of evidence. He also supports organisations to incorporate programme outcomes in to evaluation at a national and local level as well as service delivery improvement.

Mark will be speaking at a number of our conferences, including Salford on 19 October. One delegate at a previous conference said: 'Mark is such a dynamic and passionate speaker.'

The use of the term ‘outcomes’ has become widespread across public services and especially those for looked after children. Outcomes for looked after children mean different things to different people - as do the potential outcomes across the life-course, a critical factor that is often ignored. But what exactly is the meaning in the context of social care for looked after children and for foster carers? Well simply put outcomes are about impact, the effect of care support and foster carers (who are often the primary providers of support). Outcome-focused services should be evidence based and aim to achieve the aspirations, goals and priorities identified by service users (and carers) – in contrast to services that are standardised or determined solely by those who deliver them.

However, all too often in social care desired outcomes are too narrow and based on the needs of local authorities and wider statutory reporting obligations. These outcomes are often not a priority for the looked after child, aligned with their needs or in line with evidence. Professionals who work with looked after children have a critical role in ensuring that the information they are collecting is reliable, meaningful and relevant to the needs of the child. In trying to evaluate how care improves outcomes, reliable measures are required to identify ‘distance travelled’ by the looked after child.

Poor outcomes  = human and financial cost

Considering the evidence, addressing the needs and improving outcomes for looked after children requires a life-course approach, prioritising needs that impact on positive development. There must be a focus on emotional and mental wellbeing and, critically, an environment that promotes healthy relationships. When care fails to divert negative trajectories and improve outcomes both the human and financial cost is high. Despite a significant policy focus on improving outcomes, there are still too many care leavers transitioning to independence prematurely without their needs having been met while in care. By improving outcome monitoring for looked after children, professionals can have a better understanding of the readiness of a looked after child to transition to independence and how they progress when they do so.

My presentation for The Fostering Network will provide social workers and foster carers with an introduction to outcome based care and the critical role they have in the process. Attendees will gain valuable knowledge and understanding about outcomes and associated indicators for evaluating the progress of children and young people. This will include a brief introduction to the principles of outcome monitoring and how services can better evaluate 'distance travelled' and if services are improving outcomes.

 

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