This is how Lancashire plans to reduce the number of children in care
It is hoped that fewer Lancashire children will end up in care after the launch of a new one-stop-shop-style service designed to prevent family problems spiralling out of control.
Adult and children’s social care workers – along with specialists in areas such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation – have officially joined forces this week in an attempt to intervene earlier and more effectively to stop families reaching crisis point.
A total of 21 newly-formed teams are now working together as part of Lancashire County Council’s family safeguarding service.
Staff from different disciplines and organisations have long co-operated to help children deemed to be at risk – but now they will now be based together and working as one.
The idea is to tackle the wider family issues that may be giving cause for concern over a child’s welfare.
“If you speak to the practitioners working with families day in and day out, they will tell you that the problems faced by children are quite often not the children’s issues,” explains the county council’s cabinet member for young people, Phillippa Williamson.
“Especially in the under-12s, it is usually things that are happening within the family that are causing the problem. It could be mental health issues or substance misuse for the parents – and the children may almost be acting in a caring role for them.
“Fundamentally, these are problems for the parents – but the children love their parents and want to stay with them and, equally, the parents love their kids.
“Anything we can do [to keep them together] will make a big difference to the lives and life chances of children – because every bit of research shows they are better off with their families.”
A target has been set for the new approach to reduce the number of under-12s in care in Lancashire by ten percent each year for the first three years of the programme.
There were 2,096 children of all ages being looked after by the county council at the end of March 2020, more than any other local authority in England – largely as a result of its relative population size. However, even after accounting for that, the rate of children in care in the county was still above the national average – at 83 per 10,000 under-18s, compared to 67 across England.
Although the family safeguarding service has officially launched only this week, the principles which underpin it have been phased in over the past year and were already thought to be having a modest effect on the number of youngsters in care – with a two percent reduction registered between November 2019 and March 2020.
As well as the core adult and children’s social care staff and substance misuse workers, the new teams will include mental health practitioners, psychologists, domestic abuse workers, and, where necessary, youth offending teams and probation officers.
County Cllr Williamson says that the new arrangements will enable all those involved to work more effectively – and the impact of the change should be felt by the families in need of help.
“Historically, people who have had experience of child protection processes quite often felt as though things were being done to them and that it was all slightly out of their control.
“We are now attempting to help them change their situation, so that their parenting is just the way we would want it to be – and so they recognise that they are in charge of making that change for themselves.
“It’s about acknowledging what they are doing well, but recognising that things could be better in some areas – and making them feel empowered to take charge of that and giving them motivation and resilience.
“There are inevitable brakes on doing things when working across organisational boundaries, but the teams are now co-located and can wrap support around families early on.
“They no longer need to ask, ‘Do I have to make a referral to X?’ in order to do something, because those people will already be on their team,” County Cllr Williamson added.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that 44 additional adult social care workers have been deployed as part of the new programme – 10 of whom already worked in other areas within the county council. Further new staff may yet be added.
County Hall successfully bid for £6.3m from the Department of Education as part of the government’s plan to roll out the new family safeguarding model in various parts of the country after it was initially trialled in Hertfordshire over five years ago.
An evaluation of that scheme estimated that it generated £2.6m in child protection savings for the local authority in the first year alone and led to a 66 percent reduction in contact with the police and a 53 percent fall in emergency hospital admissions for adults in the families helped.
Edwina Grant, Lancashire County Council’s executive director of education and children’s services, said that while the service will be evaluated on numbers, that is not the only measure of its success.
“I hope families will feel we are going the extra mile for them, listening to them and doing the maximum for them at any given time.
“We aim to reduce the numbers coming into care, but we would know [under this programme] that we would have done everything we could do before that happened,” she added.