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Keywords:

  • care co-ordination;
  • child disability;
  • costs;
  • key workers

Abstract

Background  Key workers provide a single point of contact for disabled children and their families, supporting them and facilitating access to other services. Key worker services appear to generate good outcomes for families and provision is encouraged through central government policy. Recent increases in key worker provision have been accompanied by a proliferation of delivery models yet there is very little information on their costs.

Methods  Within a study identifying which service characteristics generate good outcomes for families, unit costs for seven key worker services were estimated. Informed by economic theory, the estimates drew on data from managers, finance departments and other publicly available sources. Data on the frequency and duration of contact with key workers were obtained from families and combined with the service-specific unit costs to arrive at the contact cost per family. The variations in the costs of supporting families were explored.

Results  On average, key worker contact with disabled children and their families cost £151 over a 3-month period. Contact costs were found to vary with the level of the child's disability and the number of role aspects that key workers performed. This latter variable was associated with improved outcomes.

Conclusion  The low response rate to the questionnaire and absence of data on the costs of other elements of the families' support packages may limit generalization from this study. Even so, such findings can help inform managers and planners about allocation of their scarce resources. Good-quality services appear to cost more but the relationship between cost, quality and outcomes is not a simple one.