Keeping more children safely at home: System dynamics in social care

Public system reform | Service design

Derbyshire County Council, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, North Tyneside Council, and Blackpool Council. 

We are using system dynamics to help local authorities get to grips with the system behaviours operating within their children’s social care services, to help improve policy, process, and practice and ultimately keep more children safely at home with their families.   


 The need

Local authority children’s services are experiencing severe cuts in funding in the face of rising demand and increased placement costs. Such a context is making it harder to provide children at the high and lower ends of need with the right support in and out of the care system. Rising numbers of children in care overall but significant variation at local authority level point to the need for a systems approach which embraces complexity and shines a light on some of the negative system behaviours currently operating.  

Our response

We harness staff system insights to understand the problem behaviours currently operating in Derbyshire, Stockton-on-Tees, North Tyneside, and Blackpool local authority children’s services and use group model building techniques to develop system dynamics simulation models. These aid senior decision-makers in service design and re-design. We combine these systems methods with evidence-informed practice tools and rapid literature reviews to help our partner authorities better manage the flow of children through their social care systems and provide better services for children and their families.


Work to date

  • Derbyshire   

    • Staff workshop “sprint” week complete  

    • Simulation model and interface developed and handed over  

    • Strategy statement written    

    • “Going Home” reunification project complete  

    • Final project presentation delivered  


  • Stockton-on-Tees  

    • Staff workshop “sprint” week complete  

    • Generation of “causal loop diagrams” document  

    • Group model building in progress  

    • “Matching Needs and Services” collaborative data collection complete  


  • North Tyneside  

    • Initial staff workshop complete   

    • Simulation model and interface developed and handed over  

    • Rapid evidence  review  of edge of care best practice complete  


  • Blackpool  

    • Initial staff workshops completed    

    • Simulation model and interface developed  

    • “Going Home” reunification data collection completed   

What next?  

  •  Stockton-on-Tees  

    • Analysis and reporting of Matching Needs and Services data  

    • Analysis and reporting of service mapping data  

    • Staff workshop using “Threshold” tool   

    • Completion of group model building and development of simulation model and user interface  

    • Support around child outcomes and monitoring  

    • Final project presentation and recommendations  


  • North Tyneside  

    • Analysis of Going Home data and presentation of findings  

    • Final project presentation and recommendations  


  • Blackpool   

    • Submission of final Going Home report and recommendations to senior team  

    • Handover of simulation model documentation   

    • Final project presentation and recommendations  


    Our work started in  June 2017  and  will  conclude in  September 2019.



Lab insight: Using system dynamics in children’s social care


Pressures on children’s social care: a systems response

The work is commissioned by  four  local authority partners  in England:  Derbyshire County Council,  Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, North Tyneside Council, and Blackpool Council. We are  supported in the work by  our expert partners in the U.S, the Social System Design Lab, part of  the Brown School at  Washington University in St. Louis, led by Professor Peter  Hovmand. 

 For more information, contact:   

Vicky Baker