In 2016 the government promised that funding of up to £20 million would be available in England within the year for a new ‘What Works Centre’, with the stated aim of “…making sure social workers across the country are able to learn from the very best examples of frontline social work with children and families”. To date the new centre has not been launched and there seems to be very little public information about what progress has been made.
Andy Elvin, the chief executive of the Adolescent and Children's Trust, seems to know something about what is going on. He writes this month in the Guardian that 2017 will see the launch of the What Works Centre which he says will roll out successful work from one local authority to others and establish common models of service across child protection and children’s social work. He concludes: “It is neither acceptable nor sustainable for us to continue to have such variations in systems and approaches; we must settle on a small number of evidence-based systems and make sure they are rolled out across the UK.”
I am not entirely opposed to a ‘what works centre’. Indeed, it may be quite a good idea. But I begin to get a little worried when I hear the strong normative tone of Elvin’s conclusion which seems wedded to a prescriptive top-down approach in which, I imagine, it is proposed that some group of clever people will sift the available evidence and then select that ‘small number’ of ‘evidence-based’ systems which are to be imposed nationally.
The result of that kind of elitism is most likely to be that ‘what works on paper’ rapidly becomes ‘what doesn’t work in practice’.