28 June 2023

Case studies of transformational reform programmes offer new learning for the reform of children’s services in Scotland

The second report for a unique research project into models of reforming children’s services has been published today by CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection.

The Children’s Services Reform Research study is looking at many sources of information and evidence and this report examines transformational reform programmes that have taken place around the world within the last decade and continue to develop.

The researchers asked the question: What transformational reform programmes have been introduced to enhance the delivery of children’s social work services through closer working with health and/or adult social care services in the case study countries, and what has been the impact of these on children, families, services and practice?

Six case studies were selected to see what key learning there is for Scotland: five examining a range of approaches to the delivery of children’s services, from national to highly decentralised structures and modes of delivery, in five high-income countries - Finland, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland - and a sixth case study to draw on learning from Scotland’s experiences of national service reorganisation through the development of Police Scotland.

The researchers identified common push and pull factors behind the rationales and aspirations for the reforms. They found that for the implementation of transformational reform programmes:

  • Implementation is a prolonged, complex and challenging process;
  • Transformational reform programmes require transformational leadership;
  • A conducive and settled domestic environment is required; and
  • Successful implementation needs strong foundations.

The diverse reform programmes were found to have been used to bring about integrated children's health and social care systems and identified that despite the differences in approach:

  • There were commonalities in the structures and functions present at the national, regional, local and locality levels.
  • Strong national leadership and investment is required for the design and implementation of transformational reform.
  • The locality level is the main setting for integrated working.
  • Continued attention needs to be paid to the interfaces between services.
  • Continued attention needs to be paid to workforce recruitment and retention.
  • Wider policy agendas influence - and must be influenced by - the experiences of children and families.
  • Integrated children's health and social care systems require a range of features to be in place.

Dr Heather Ottaway, CELCIS’s Head of Evidence and Innovation, who is leading the research, said:

“Each of these case studies was selected as the set of structural reforms have led to different models of delivery. By understanding the rationales, experiences, and outcomes, of each of these transformational reform programmes, these collectively offer us the opportunity to learn from and apply what has worked in other countries and settings and, equally, to understand what has not worked.

“Looking at these case studies of reform programmes is one contribution to this study’s process of identifying what is already known and what we need to understand in the future to inform decision-making.”

Chair of the research’s independent steering group, Professor Brigid Daniel, Professor Emerita at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, said:

“This second report complements the first by offering in-depth analysis of different approaches to transformational change. As both reports show, there is no one simple ‘off the shelf’ structure that can be lifted from elsewhere and applied in Scotland, rather there are many helpful pointers that can help with shaping Scotland’s children’s services for the future.”

The evidence and report published today complements the analysis of how integration is understood and evidenced in the mostly academic research papers that were reviewed for the Rapid Evidence Review also published this month.

The third strand of the research a statistical analysis mapping integration and outcomes across Scotland will be published this summer and a report on the experiences and views of the Children’s Services workforce in Scotland will be published in the autumn. The research study is due to conclude in October (2023) when the final report with analysis will be published and provided to Scottish Ministers.

Read the report