Made to Measure: Pooling Personal Budgets
By Clare Gent, Action for Children
Made to Measure was a two-year pilot established to try and address the challenges of individual parents seeking to purchase services using their personal budgets. It sought to ease the difficulties of identifying suitable activities and the logistics of purchasing the services. An overall objective was to increase choice and control for families of disabled children by increasing their influence on market development and the provision of services that meet the needs of their children.
What we did to address it
Parents of disabled children were brought together to share information and to work collaboratively with providers to jointly commission activities by pooling their personal budgets. Online tools, including a communication forum to share information, and a cost calculator tool, were developed to provide a clear process for parents to pool their budgets.
An overall objective was to increase the influence and involvement of families in the commissioning of short break opportunities and to stimulate the development of the market by the entry of new providers.
Two project teams were established in Trafford and Plymouth and they worked alongside parents for two years, from April 2013, to develop relationships between parents and to enable them to pool their personal budgets so they could commission the services they wanted to use.
How it worked in practice
The project team worked with SEND schools and the local authorities to identify 180 eligible parents and raise awareness of the pilot. Project staff worked with parents to inform the development and testing of the website that contained a communication forum and cost calculator tool.
Needs analyses were undertaken with the participating parents and gaps in the market were identified. Parents were then brought together on the basis of shared interest either in terms of the types of activities their children enjoyed or on the basis of their child's needs. Suitable providers were identified and interested families attended 'taster sessions' that included trampolining, horse riding, Lego, craft activities and cooking.
Interested parents and children then continued with the 'pooled' sessions on a regular basis. Online forums were established with the intent of enabling access to an online community for parents to discuss and review activities that were already in existence and to make suggestions for new areas of activity.
Independent research, conducted by The Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) at Loughborough University, found that the experience of the parents involved in the project was overwhelmingly positive. The evaluation reported that participants found that through pooling their personal budgets they could access services and activities that were otherwise not available to them and a number of evaluation participants made reference to the potential to increase stability.
Activities can be developed with groups, rather than individual families, making innovations in service design more possible for providers. Overall, the parents valued the sharing of information, experiences and mutual support and the research concluded that the development of relationships between parents is a fundamental element to the establishment of effective collaboration.
An objective of the pilot was to increase the number of short break services and providers available to families. The programme invested a lot of work in engaging with providers but resulted in only a small increase in the number of providers entering the market. Of the proposed 25 new and 25 improved services to be delivered through pooled budgets only 14 were delivered by the end of the pilot.
Despite the relatively small numbers of additional providers, however, the provision of information to parents and providers and the facilitation of communication between these groups was thought to enable families to have more influence on the way that services are delivered and have access to the kinds of services that they need.