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Project Crewe: testing and replicating a new approach to improving outcomes for children in need

Frances Flaxington, Strategic Director, Young People and Families, discusses innovative children's social care pilot, Project Crewe, and the scope for replicating the model to improve CIN outcomes.

31 March 2017

In 2015, Catch22 and Cheshire East Council were awarded Department for Education (DfE) Innovation Programme funding to test a different approach to engaging children in need and their families, through Project Crewe. By creating individually tailored and intensive interventions for children, young people and their families, the project aimed to improve outcomes and reduce repeat referrals and escalations to child protection and the care system. This would subsequently reduce social care team caseloads and reliance on agency social workers, providing a more cost effective service to the authority.

The model

Catch22 established four teams that operate in ‘Pod’ structures. Each is managed by a qualified social worker who holds the statutory responsibilities. The day to day work is undertaken by Family Practitioners alongside peer and family mentors all from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Staff are trained to take a solution focused, strengths-based approach and with a focus on developing personalised plans with each family to help them towards more positive futures.

Project Crewe families have a different experience, they feel empowered and own the interventions that are agreed with them.

Parent working with Project Crewe:

‘You came here to help me so I decided to help myself’

Parent working with Project Crewe:

‘I’m pleased you’re helping me and not just doing telling me what to do’

CAMHS Caseworker:

‘The (Child In Need review) meeting was extremely professionally run, it felt non-judgemental, Social Work Consultant and Family Practitioner were very respectful towards the family and it is encouraging that some thoughtful, thorough work will be put in place for this family. The mother felt that the meeting was empowering and included her.’

The Impact

The team deliver the service as an integral part of Cheshire East’s provision and the work, including managing risk, is undertaken in close collaboration with the Cheshire East team.

The Interim Report from the Randomised Control Trial findings showed:

  • family practitioners dedicate a minimum of 4 times as much contact time, seeing families on average once or twice a week
  • family practitioners offer flexibility and full time availability to their families which extend beyond those provided by social workers
  • the approach puts families’ proposed approaches to addressing CIN risks at the centre of the solution.

Recent data from the pilot shows:

  • more than 90% engagement
  • 273 cases successfully closed
  • of the 390 (186 families) children engaged with to date, only nine have been escalated to a Child Protection Plan (CPP) and two to looked-after children (LAC) status
  • a reduction in CIN cases in Crewe by 12.4% and average Social Work caseload reduced by 30%
  • tangible examples of long term ‘revolving door’ families
  • early signs show a reduction in re-referral rates overall.

On the basis of the results to date, including a drop in demand in Crewe, Cheshire East is funding Catch22 to provide a reduced service in Crewe and to replicate the approach in Macclesfield to meet demand there. We are pleased to have the opportunity to further demonstrate the impact and potential of this different approach.


Catch22 is familiar with the principles of replication including through it’s work managing the Realising Ambition programme, supporting 22 organisations to replicate their interventions to prevent youth crime.  We see the Crewe model as replicable both for children in need and other cohorts of vulnerable children.

The learning from Realising Ambition and the DfE Innovation programme has informed our approach to seeking to replicate Project Crewe. With a strong delivery model underpinned by a robust Theory of Change and an experienced staff group with relevant skills and experience, we know that we have the key ingredients for successful replication. We also have promising evidence of our success in improving outcomes and an approach focused on improving and proving impact supported by the robust RCT evaluation process.

We promoted Project Crewe at the LGA and National Children and Adult Services Conferences and Catch22 is now in the process of further replication of this model through:

  • the development of a Social Impact Bond model with funding confirmed in principle from several social investors
  • engaging with Commissioners that we were currently working with and those who have high numbers of CIN in their areas

Local authorities

Speaking at the recent DfE/Spring Consortium ‘learning event’  gave us further pause for thought about innovation and how a model that has shown promise can be supported to be replicated and scaled. It is evident that the drivers and the levers for change are there. Many Councils are no different from Cheshire East in having financial pressures; high social work caseloads and use of agency staff and who are not reaching this group of children. These challenges were illustrated in the recent APPG report, ‘No Good Options’ that highlighted the shift away from early intervention.

In discussing the Project Crewe model with Commissioners, with or without the potential to fund this through a Social Impact Bond, it has become clear that the model represents a significant shift for local authorities:

  • cultural changes including a new way of working with the voluntary and community sector as genuine and equal partners through the co-design and delivery of services
  • commitment to re-configuring services with differently qualified staff including volunteers
  • a commitment to and understanding of a new approach to engaging families ensuring that they have strong and sustained relationships to enable change
  • leaders committed to transformation, willing to take a bold leap and test and learn from new approaches.

Working with Cheshire East families, and as part of the DfE Innovation Programme, has enabled and supported Catch22 to test an innovative model and also to learn and change our approach. It is positive that recognition for the Project Crewe approach includes Cheshire East and Catch22 being finalists for a MJ Award in the Impact and Learning in Children’s Services category. Now as DfE Innovation first round projects seek to embed, replicate and scale their approaches, we must all take that learning and maximise the potential of the programme to improve outcomes for those children and young people in need of support across the country.