28/07/2017 01:53

The Erasmus dream

By Eirini Saloniki, Research Associate at PSSRU & CHSS at the University of Kent.

It was nine years ago when I was given the opportunity to study for a year abroad at the University of Kent with the Erasmus programme. A fantastic and mind-opening experience – in fact, so fantastic that I returned to Kent not only to study for a PhD but now also working at the University. Who would have thought that I will live the Erasmus ‘dream’ again, this time as a staff member? Yes, the Erasmus programme is available for staff too…! I was eager to apply but I had to find a hosting institution first. It took a Skype meeting and “I suppose we talk about 2-4 weeks visit?” before I found myself applying to spend two weeks as a Visiting Researcher at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in Helsinki. The application process was fast and within a couple of weeks I was informed that I was successful. I put my excitement aside and focused on organising everything for the visit with the weather not being a concern as I was told that it will be over 10 degrees in May!

Nervous (as it was my first time in Helsinki) but at the same time ready to face the challenge, I spent my first day at the Institute trying to get used to the new routine and working environment, including having lunch at as early as 11:30am. Everyone was very welcome and it really felt like I was a member of the Centre for Health and Social Economics (within THL). The days to follow involved many meetings with health and social economists and late stays at the office (I must have lost track of time as it was so bright in the evening). I had the opportunity to discuss the projects we work on at the Centre for Health Services Studies and the Personal Social Services Research Unit with senior economists, and share best practice. I was also able to share my knowledge of how to control for taste and scale heterogeneity in preference elicitation for social care-related quality of life, and present some preliminary results from the work we are doing in Kent as part of the EXCELC project in an internal seminar. The seminar was well-attended with the audience showing real interest in the project. Importantly, I got to know all about the Finnish health and social care system, and its associated difficulties when it comes to data handling and interpretation.  This is an important consideration for the cross-national element of the project that I am involved in.

It was a great honour to be asked to co-write (with Professor Ismo Linnosmaa) a short piece about “Measuring effectiveness in social care: the present and future for researchers and policy-makers” which is to be featured in the THL newsletter, distributed across Finland.

Before I even realised, my time in Helsinki was over. This experience was invaluable and once again undoubtedly mind-opening. The interaction with senior economists working under a different research environment and the transfer of knowledge as well as discussions for future collaboration were beyond my expectations.

Would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY. Lots to learn in this visit but above all lots to gain. I wholeheartedly recommend the Erasmus programme to other researchers.

The unit costs of children’s social care services

curtis-lesley-90x135By Lesley Curtis, Research Fellow at PSSRU Kent

The continuing drive for efficiency savings in the face of rising demand for children’s social care services requires that councils keep a tight rein on how much they are spending. Indeed, a key objective of the Department for Education’s innovation programme, launched in 2013 is to ‘achieve value for money’ while providing better life chances for children receiving help from the social care system.  As well as ensuring that services are effective, how much they cost is an important factor when deciding how to allocate budgets.

The Unit Costs of Health and Social Care volumes, currently with over 11,000 readers, are a key point of reference for those keeping a careful eye on costs. They are designed to support and improve policy by providing good quality unit costs for a wide range of health and social care services.  Our unit costs are also used by service providers and commissioners for benchmarking, price setting and allocating budgets.

The whole of chapter 6 of the report focuses on children’s services (e.g. care homes, parenting programmes and early years’ teacher classroom management programmes). And in chapter 8 we include care packages for children with different needs, where the unit of interest is the individual and the combination of services they use, rather than the costs of providing a particular service or professional. We also include a schema for a children’s social worker in chapter 11 and CAMHS teams in chapter 12, both key in the provision of services for children and young people’s mental health.

How we do it

A variety of approaches are used when putting together these volumes. Often we draw on studies carried out by other organisations. For example, this year we have improved the costs of adoption, using research carried out by the Centre for Child and Family Research (CCFR) commissioned by Coram Family as part of one of the Department for Education’s Innovation Programme projects. The unit costs of five adoption sub-processes have been estimated following the child’s journey from care planning, and the adopter’s journey from the decision to adopt, through to the child’s placement. The table below (adapted from Section 6.8, p. 80) shows costs to the local authority: the Unit Costs of Health and Social Care 2016 also shows the costs for voluntary sector organisations.

Average costs (£) of local authority processes at 2015/16 values

Adoption sub-processes
Local authority adoption agencies
‘Standard’ case
‘Difficult to place’ case
Adoption planning
Preparation, assessment of adopters
Adoption panel
Linking & matching
Placement of the child
Assessment for adoption support

Secondary sources of data are also used, such as where we combine data from Section 251 of the local authority expenditure return with activity data to calculate the costs of children’s homes and foster care. Led by policy requirements, we undertake some primary research, often working with service-providing organisations. This year, plans have already been put in place to work with the Children’s Society to look at the costs of children’s advocacy. We are hoping to collate the costs of different models of advocacy provision, to assist in identifying underlying cost drivers, and to provide benchmark prices for organisations commissioning and providing advocacy services.  Individual organisations providing costs will, of course, be kept anonymous.

An important part of our work is to keep our estimates current. One method of doing this is to use an inflator to uprate costs calculated from previous years. We delete Unit Cost schema that are based on data that are more than ten years old until new research or other data are available.  One important task also for 2017, responding to an important policy-related gap, is to create an inflator specifically for uprating children’s social care services.

The Unit Costs of Health and Social Care volumes have been used to inform policy decisions in health and social care services for more than 20 years. Over that time, there has been an increasing awareness of the importance of spending limited budgets wisely. Support from the Department for Education has allowed us to continue to inform children’s social care policy and provision through the provision of good quality up-to-date unit costs.


We welcome feedback from readers and organisations who can help us improve our unit costs data for both adults’ and children’s services.

Recent blogs:

All in a year’s work – Unit Costs of Health and Social Care 2016 just in time for Christmas.

Unit Costs across Europe

The Unit Costs programme is funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme (Unit costs of health and social care, 035/0093) with a small amount of additional resources from the Department of Education.