The local offer as a commissioning tool

Council for Disabled Children case study about how a local authority produced its local offer in partnership with families. By Anna Gardiner, Council for Disabled Children.

The Children & Families Act Code of Practice (CoP) (January 2015) states that a purpose of the local offer is, "to make provision more responsive to local needs and aspirations by directly involving disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN) and their parents, and disabled young people and those with SEN, and service providers in its development and review" (CoP, paragraph 4.2). How can the local offer shape short breaks provision?

The local offer has the potential to be a powerful commissioning tool, allowing services to gather first-hand  experience from families accessing their services on how they are (or are not) meeting individual needs; this individual level data when viewed collectively with feedback from a wide group of families should highlight where gaps in provision are and what could be commissioned going  forward to fill these gaps. When considering short break provision, the local offer is often the first point of call for families to find out what leisure options are available locally for their children and young people to join.

Let's consider the cycle in relation to the Short Breaks Scheme in Wiltshire and how commissioners and families are working together there to continually improve the short breaks provision available.

The Short Breaks Scheme offers families a menu of options that allows children and young people, together with their parents or carers, to choose how to spend their leisure time based on what works for them.

Wiltshire Council subsidises all the options that are available through the Short Breaks Scheme, but families are also expected to contribute towards the overall costs of providing short breaks for their children.

Depending on the age of the child or young person, and if they meet the eligibility criteria, several options are available to families.

Parent carers are encouraged to read through the Short Break Scheme leaflet to satisfy themselves that their child meets the criteria for the Short Breaks Scheme and they know which option they want to choose. Applications are made online or, if they do not have access to the internet, Wiltshire Parent Carer Council (WPCC) will process their application with them over the phone. Approximately 1,200 children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) access the scheme.

Partnership with children, young people with SEND and their families 

Participation and co-production is embedded in the culture in Wiltshire. Because representatives of the WPCC sit on all SEND boards, panels, groups, and so on, at a variety of levels and also communicate directly with commissioners, customer feedback is a natural part of the day-to-day activity. The WPCC produces consultation/survey reports that are also shared with commissioners for discussion.   

Solutions are always jointly discussed with the WPCC as representative of the wider members. Parent carers are asked to offer solutions as part of consultation/ engagement sessions; "we never go to sessions with a fixed idea of what the solution is and ask parent carers to rubber stamp the decision."

The approach in Wiltshire is to take the situation to parent carers with transparency and work together to arrive at joint solutions. This approach results in ownership, service models that meet need and cost effective service delivery. Examples include the short breaks eligibility criteria that was designed by parent carers, the local offer website that was designed with parent carers right from the very beginning, and the key principles of the Wiltshire SEND Service.

Joint Analysis of Need

The Wiltshire local offer was developed in partnership with families to ensure that it provides the information they want in an appropriate way. This coproduction was facilitated by Wiltshire Parent Carer Council through events, surveys and feedback sessions for parents. Through these consultations, priorities were identified from families' feedback and this was used to then develop the short breaks provision going forward.  

Parent carers reported, about short breaks, that:

  • They wanted clear, easy to understand eligibility criteria.
  • They wanted activities for children and young people to be positive, enjoyable, and appropriate experiences.
  • They wanted activities to be accessible, take place in a safe environment, be easy to access wherever they live across the county, and take place at times that work for the child, young person and family.
  • Be flexible and person-centred, and aim to meet the individual needs of children and young people, and their families.
  • They wanted a range of options and choice.

Agreeing outcomes and planning

Following their joint consultation work, Wiltshire Parent Carer Council and Wiltshire Council worked together to agree a specification for future short breaks providers, and develop a tendering process which ensures that families' feedback is heard and incorporated. The Parent Carer Council were involved in shortlisting potential providers and meet quarterly with providers and Wiltshire Council as part of the service review process. 

Joint Delivery of Provision  

All families with a child or young person up to age 25 with SEND can approach the parent carer forum for information. Both the local authority and parent carer forum websites direct families to the local offer.

For families who are unable to access the internet, the local authority funds Wiltshire Parent Carer Council to provide information both by phone and in print. Comprehensive information leaflets are available to families on what is on offer to them. 

Joint review of progress against outcomes  

Feedback is collected via a submission form on the local offer website. It is important to remember that the local offer website in Wiltshire is the 'book' and not the 'story'. Feedback is also collected through parent participation through WPCC consultations, surveys, engagement events, on-to-one contact through the WPCC's SENDIS, and WPCC information events, and so on.

Every August, families complete a form with their feedback on the short breaks provision they have accessed.  

Each year, parent carers receiving a payment element of the scheme have to complete and return a simple monitoring form that identifies what the child or young person got from the scheme and the sort of things the money was spent on. A condition of the scheme is this form must be submitted to trigger the second part of the payment, as the payment elements of the scheme are paid in two instalments. 

WPCC has representatives on all service review boards providing feedback on parent carer experience of services. As a result, a short breaks service which had poor feedback at the outset, has been supported to achieve a 98% customer satisfaction rate of good or better.

Next steps in Wiltshire

Short break consultation sessions were held in June and July 2015 and this is being supplemented with a survey. The results will be analysed, a report combining the results of the consultations sessions and the survey results will be written and a meeting will take place between the WPCC and commissioners to discuss the results and the implications for the scheme for next financial year.

Commissioners do not see the results of the survey until the WPCC has produced a report. Once an agreement about the scheme for next year, in response to parent carer feedback, has been reached, a separate meeting will take place between the WPCC and commissioners to discuss any changes needed to the short break leaflet and application form; this meeting has been scheduled to take place in November.

The WPCC will design, publish and have the leaflets printed and will work co-productively with the local authority to distribute the information to all known eligible families, plus promote widely via the WPCC, ready for when the scheme goes live for application in January 2016.


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