Transforming cultures in and beyond Children’s Social Care

No Wrong Door

Uniquely, Innovation Unit helps places and partners solve today’s urgent problems and grow sustainable solutions for the future – building a safe and credible pathway between the two. This includes supporting the adoption and adaptation of innovations which centre young people’s right to a family. 

As part of the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, in 2014, Innovation Unit supported the successful development and adoption of children’s social care innovations, resulting in significant financial savings, improved outcomes for young people and reductions in children being looked after.

Currently, the number of looked after children currently stands at a record 83,840, with 33,000 coming into care in 2023 alone. All the evidence shows that looked after children do less well in education and struggle to achieve stability and success as adults and parents. On top of this, Local Authorities are struggling with finding the money they need to fulfil their statutory requirements. Indeed, many councils are facing bankruptcy. 

For many children, families, system leaders and practitioners, the current care system simply isn’t working.

No Wrong Door

No Wrong Door® (NWD) was developed by North Yorkshire Council, who identified high-needs adolescents as having particularly poor long-term outcomes. The system was not coping well with these young people, providing fragmented support across professional specialisms, and acting too slowly to respond to the needs of young people and families.

In North Yorkshire, NWD supports adolescents aged 12 to 25 who have considerable needs and are in or on the edge of care, particularly those at risk of needing to leave their family or move from their current family within care. The goal of NWD is to reduce the number of young people coming into care, and to support those already in care to find permanence in a family setting – either through long-term foster care, reunification with their families or independence.

NWD combines a defined culture and practice with a range of services, support and accommodation options and a team of specialists working together through a shared practice framework. At the heart of the model is a residential Hub, which provides short-term care and outreach support, and the role of a key worker who builds a strong relationship with the young person.

Working alongside North Yorkshire

Recognising the impact of NWD in helping to improve outcomes for young people and their families, Innovation Unit has supported the development, adoption and adaptation of the model over many years. Our support has taken many forms:

  • Helping North Yorkshire to codify the model, i.e. define and distinguish it from other services, in Round 1 of the DfE Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme (2014-2017)
  • Supporting a wide range of adopter Local Authorities – Bradford, Sheffield and six of the Local Authorities in Greater Manchester – to find the right balance between what we call ‘fidelity and flex’, that is, faithfulness to the distinguishing features of the model, and flexibility to meet local needs.

The Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme

In 2019, the DfE launched Strengthening Families Protecting Children (SFPC) Programme, an investment of £84 million over five years, supporting Local Authorities to improve their work with families and safely reduce the number of children entering care by implementing successful sector-designed whole-system change models, including North Yorkshire’s No Wrong Door.

In 2020, Innovation Unit and Mutual Ventures were jointly commissioned as SFPC support partners. For IU, this has involved close working with North Yorkshire, and with Middlesbrough, Rochdale, Norfolk, Warrington, Redcar and Cleveland over the past four years. 

IU’s work added value to North Yorkshire’s expertise in the implementation of the model, working with adopter authorities to create the conditions for successful adoption, in their individual contexts. Our Innovation Coaching work has included:

  • ‘Deep Dive’ sessions to centre the lived experience of young people and families
  • ‘Theory of change’ workshops to engage stakeholders and think about the change we want to see
  • Supporting adopters to design their own adaptation of the model, including a practice framework 
  • Providing bespoke individual coaching support to Hub managers, and group coaching to teams, to support adoption and adaptation, culture change and effective multi-agency team working.

As part of this work, the IU team has created and produced resources and tools for the NWD project and teams. You can see an example (in the form of a short animation) here.


NWD Impact

NWD in North Yorkshire was independently evaluated by Loughborough University as part of the DfE’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. During this period, NWD worked with 355 young people, 67% through outreach work. The model demonstrated significant financial savings, improved outcomes for young people and reductions in children being looked after.

Headline impact data included the following successes:

  • In 2020/1, NWD led to costs avoided for North Yorkshire in Children in Care (CiC), Child Protection (CP) and Child in Need (CIN) totalling £2.26 million
  • In 2021/2, NWD helped reduce the number of young people coming into care by 51, with a further reduction of 39 in 2022/3, in North Yorkshire alone
  • In 2022/3, North Yorkshire’s estimated costs avoided at the edge of care (i.e. the young person did not come into care, or the child in care arrangement was prevented from breaking down) totalled £6.39 million (based on North Yorkshire’s Edge of Care methodology, developed in 2021/2. Work is underway to have this methodology verified by independent experts)

In July 2018, North Yorkshire became the first children’s services department in England to achieve an ‘Outstanding’ rating in all areas. The impact of the No Wrong Door® model was noted in the report. This remarkable success was repeated in 2023.

The model has also attracted international interest. NWD was requested to be the Association of Children’s Residential Centres keynote presentation in 2020. The model has also been visited by colleagues from Helsinki, Finland, and has attracted research interest across Europe and Thailand. 

Across the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children as a whole – including NYC and the five adopter Local Authorities – the latest available data shows costs avoided of £15.37 million in the year 2023/4 (as at Quarter 3, 2022/3).

In number terms, across the SFPC in the same quarter, this looks like:


young people prevented from coming into care


of young people living in a family

One of the practitioners in Warrington, summarised the benefits of NWD for young people and families, but also for staff professional development:

“Having specialist roles, such as speech and language, and the life coach, has been key to the delivery of the outreach support in the home to the young people and their families. When it is planned for a young person to come into the home, there is a clear plan for where we would like the young person to live when they move on. Multi-agency partners are good at coming together for the young person and wanting the right and best outcomes. Being a Portfolio lead and transitioning into management, the NWD model gives you more opportunities to progress compared to that of other children’s homes. Even at Portfolio Lead level, it gives you the opportunity to develop your leadership skills by having a lead role around the specialist areas. ”

NWD has made a difference to the lives of over a thousand young people and families, it has helped to transform the culture of safeguarding adolescents in North Yorkshire, Middlesbrough, Rochdale, Norfolk, Warrington, and Redcar & Cleveland, as well as avoiding costs amounting to millions of pounds. We are proud to have worked closely with North Yorkshire in the early days, and to have helped them spread NWD to new places in recent years. 

What we learned

Adolescence is a life-changing experience for all young people and their parents and carers. This work is unpredictable and demanding of staff time, skills and resources, and requires great courage and commitment by leaders at every level. Changing a service for adolescents requires change to the whole system of children’s social care and beyond, into Education, the Criminal Justice System and a wide range of services across the public and voluntary sector. 

Building a credible pathway to preventative public services for the future – which help families to thrive and support’s young people’s right to a family – is challenging. This work requires cultural and structural change on many fronts: from what is measured, to how decisions are made, and to where money goes. 

We have distilled our learning about what it takes to build these safe and credible pathways in our Growing People Centred Systems framework. Our approach is founded on three building blocks: culture, agency and power.

To learn more about this approach, our impact and our work in children’s social care contact Heather Rolinson. We would love to hear from you.

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