Radical changes that improve the lives of families are set to be introduced in Oxfordshire
A pioneering approach that has radically changed the way children’s social care operates, brought families together and reduced the number of children on child protection plans by 55 per cent in 30 months in Hertfordshire is set to be adopted by Oxfordshire County Council.
Since 2015 in Hertfordshire children’s social workers have been working in small integrated teams centred around individual families in need alongside experts providing specialist mental health, drugs & alcohol and domestic abuse services.
Together, workers from different disciplines share a single approach to practice that maximises the capacity of both parents and children to change and gain a happy and healthy family life.
The results in Hertfordshire have been both startling and impressive – including a 39 per cent reduction in the number of days children spent in care, a 53 per cent drop in hospital admissions for adults in the families and a 66 per cent reduction in contact with the Police for domestic abuse.
So impressive have the results of the complete re-design of services been that children’s social care teams in Luton, Peterborough, Bracknell Forest and West Berkshire have also been adopting the new approach – named “The Family Safeguarding Model”. Central Government and Ofsted have both praised Hertfordshire’s work.
Oxfordshire County Council's Cabinet will discuss the proposal at its meeting on Tuesday, July 16.
Whole family approach
Councillor Steve Harrod, Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services said: “Hertfordshire County Council’s system is based around a ‘whole family approach’. It has made it easier for parents to access all of the support they need from within one team, helping them deal with complex issues such as domestic abuse, mental health and drug or alcohol abuse that harm their lives and those of their children.
“Children’s exposure to harmful behaviour is drastically reduced and school attendance improved. Lives have been improved dramatically and all of the agencies in Hertfordshire have benefited as a result – including financially. In the first year of operation the new way of operating saved £2.6m for Hertfordshire County Council with savings also achieved across partner organisations. It really has led to better lives and more efficient services at one and the same time.
Enthusiasm and encouragement
Director of Children’s Services Lucy Butler, said: “In Oxfordshire we’ve experienced an 80 per cent rise in children in care from 2011 to 2019. There are now 780 children in care compared to 425. The budget in 2011 will have doubled by 2023 based on what we have in our current plans. On current trends and without the changes we plan, children in care would rise to around 915 by 2023.
“This new approach that has been pioneered in Hertfordshire may well offer a way of beginning to reverse those trends. We want to create a version that applies to our own circumstances in Oxfordshire rather than entirely replicating Hertfordshire’s model – but the principles would be identical.
“We will be involving district councils a great deal – including Cherwell District Council with whom the county council already has a strong partnership.
“Scrutiny committees of councillors at Oxfordshire County Council have already debated the proposed new approach and offered enthusiasm and encouragement. Our cabinet is due to give it approval for us to adopt the new model in July and we look forward to that decision.
“At a time when we are seeking to recruit around 40 new social workers, our plans for the future show that we are forward thinking council and a great team to join if you want to find out more or would like to discuss how you can progress your career, get in touch with our friendly team on firstname.lastname@example.org.”
During the week beginning July 8, senior social care managers like Lucy from children’s social care and from partner agencies such as Thames Valley Police and the NHS will be joining social workers on the frontline as part of a “practice week.
Teresa Heritage, Executive Member for Children, Young People and families at Hertfordshire County Council, said: “This enlightened approach has helped so many families in Hertfordshire. I’m proud of what the safeguarding teams have achieved and the difference they are continuing to make for children in our county by introducing new practice and managing safeguarding in a more preventative way.
“The success we have experienced in Hertfordshire is down to the partnership approach we have taken to implementing our new way of working and the individuals within our teams who have driven forward our ambitious project with enthusiasm.”
The changes proposed would cost around £4.8m to implement, including training of existing staff, recruiting new staff and implementing a new e-record Training will begin in the Autumn.