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The Matching Needs and Services (MNS) tool provides a method for auditing the needs of children as a necessary preliminary to designing, implementing and evaluating new needs-led services. For any agency trying to consolidate a shift from service-led to needs-led thinking, it is an excellent introduction to the Common Language.

As well as providing valuable information about children who have been involved with services, MNS also enables practitioners, managers, policy makers and consumers to be meaningfully involved in the process.

Agency staff obtain key information about need and service take-up from case records. A mixed group of practitioners, policy makers, managers and consumers then examine the information, as if from scratch, in order to identify groups of children with similar needs. This analysis is complemented by a statistical analysis.

Groups of children that the analysis indicates would benefit from new services become the focus of service design work, which includes establishing realistic outcomes for the selected group and identifying the threshold that will allow access to the service. To complete the process, the implemented service is evaluated to see if it achieves the expected outcomes.

MNS has been used extensively throughout the UK as well as elsewhere in Europe and in the United States. Samples for need audits have included looked after children, adopted children, children referred to social services, children being dealt with by the police, and children on education welfare or health-visitor caseloads.

A multi-agency audit of need undertaken in Devon resulted in three new services, all of which have each been evaluated using quasi-experimental methods (the process for doing this is outlined in the practice tool).