Children's services planning: guidance

Updated guidance (2020) for local authorities and health boards on exercising the functions conferred by Part 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Appendix B: Care Inspectorate’s 10 Steps to Successful Children’s Services Planning

Based on learning from joint inspections of services for children and young people, the Care Inspectorate has identified ten steps to successful children’s services planning with the aim of supporting the work of Community Planning Partners and the strategic group they task with leading and coordinating children’s services planning.  

Step 1: An ambitious and compelling shared vision

Having an ambitious and compelling vision for children and young people with explicit values based on children’s rights is essential to effective leadership of children’s services planning.  This vision should in turn drive forward the work of partners at pace in the delivery of transformational change, as well as inspiring and energising staff to work together towards common goals. The vision and values should contribute to a culture of collaborative working characterised by respectful challenge and mutual support. 

Step 2: A joint a strategic needs assessment

Children’s services planning is built on jointly assessing the needs of children and young people. Partners leading on children’s services planning should have systems and processes in place to gather, analyse and update performance management information drawn from across services, and to aggregate the views of children, young people and families about their experiences of using services. This should provide evidence of current and future need in different localities and by age and stage, both for the child population as a whole and vulnerable groups within this. Based on this evidence, partners should agree priority objectives. A good plan will have no more than 3 – 5 priorities in total. These can change for the next three-year period, but over a planning cycle the focus is on a manageable number of priorities towards which resources are directed with the aim of achieving step change and narrowing outcome gaps.  

Step 3: Strategic mapping of services

Extensive and detailed mapping of existing services supports effective planning. This should involve robust cost/benefit analysis of all services provided directly or commissioned from the third sector. It is desirable to establish a consistent and sustained approach through regular reporting by all services on measurable improvements in the wellbeing of children and young people. Feedback on the experiences of users of services is an essential part of this process. The co-ordination of mapping at a strategic level enables leaders to maintain a critical overview of the services they invest in and deliver, in order to apply best value principles.

Step 4: Identifying the totality of the resource

To become achievable, plans should detail the resources available to partners over the three-year period of a Children’s Service Plan. Overall information on available finance, staffing and assets is clearly stated and is then linked specifically to activities throughout the plan. Moreover, partners should be explicit about the increasing resources to be directed towards prevention and early intervention over the lifetime of the plan.

Step 5: Matching needs and services

To justify continued expenditure, community planning partners should show that existing services are delivering improvements in wellbeing clearly aligned to priority areas of need. When services which are intended to meet a priority area of need do not deliver sufficient improvement or do not represent best value, leaders should be agile and innovative in changing course. Any mismatch identified between existing services and agreed priorities should be used as an opportunity for collective decision making about commissioning and decommissioning.

Step 6: Developing sets of local outcome indicators

It is necessary for community planning partners to agree from the outset what outcome indicators they will use to measure progress on specific improvement aims within each priority objective. They can then establish baseline measures and set targets linked to priority areas for improvement. Milestones can be identified to support annual public reporting on progress. Benchmarking local outcome indicators could helpfully be achieved through working with comparators to adopt some of the same outcome indicators.

Step 7: Informed consultation

Information from completing steps 2 - 6 can be turned into user friendly formats and presentations. Stakeholders, including children and young people, understand that there are constraints on what can be achieved and that difficult choices have to be made. It is very important that they are involved in making decisions about children’s services planning based on accessible information.  Discussion with stakeholders should be informed by evidence (including from academic research) about what works to improve wellbeing while listening carefully to their ideas and suggestions. Components of a children’s services plan should increasingly be delivered through co-production with children, young people, families and communities.

Step 8: Developing a SMART delivery plan

A Children’s Services Plan is turned into activities leading to change and improvement through a clear and concise delivery plan. This details the specific improvement aims and actions linked to each priority. SMART delivery plans are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-related. Importantly, in order to be delivered, actions must be adequately resourced. 

Step 9: Governance and accountability

A strategic group tasked with children’s services planning should report directly to the Community Planning Partnership (or an executive group within the CPP, such as a Chief Officers Group) and should be responsible for the development and delivery of the plan. This group should be made up of senior managers who control budgets. Representatives should come from community child health, education and children and families social work, other council services such as housing, community learning and development and the third sector.

Moreover, simplifying the planning landscape for children’s services supports more efficient and effective arrangements, and reduces the number of separate and sometimes disconnected planning forums. This can be done, for example, by including children’s rights, child protection, corporate parenting, youth justice, child poverty etc. as discreet sections within the Children’s Services Plan. A manageable number of subgroups could work to clear remits and timescales and be held accountable to the strategic planning group. The strategic group responsible for children’s services planning is in turn accountable for its performance to the Community Planning Partnership. 

Step 10: Annual performance reporting

Annual public performance reporting to stakeholders should not simply describe the volume and frequency of service delivery but identify the measurable difference the Children’s Services Plan has made to the lives of children and young people. This includes key achievements and improving trends in indicators of wellbeing and life chances. It can help partners to prepare for public reporting by describing at the outset of the 3 year plan what success will look like. Developing meaningful ways of communicating key achievements to children and young people is an important part of this process.


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