Councillors to scrutinise services that radically improve safeguarding outcomes for children and their families

Oxfordshire county councillors are to scrutinise services that radically improve safeguarding outcomes for children and their families, and that are also designed to reduce demands and costs for the council, at the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee at County Hall on Thursday 11 November.  

This is one of four scrutiny committees now in place – people, place, health, and performance – formed in response to the council’s commitment to creating a vibrant local democracy and taking decisions in an open and inclusive way, engaging and listening to residents.

Residents can attend the committee meeting in person, or remotely, and if they would like to contribute, they can submit questions in advance.

On 11 November, residents will be able to hear about Family Solutions Plus (FSP), a collaborative partnership model to safeguarding, which is currently being trialled by the county council, Oxfordshire MIND, Connection Support, Elmore Community Service and Turning Point.

FSP puts at its heart a consistent relationship between a social worker and a family, working together through assessment and intervention, employing a motivational approach. It involves local voluntary organisations placing adult mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse workers in teams with children’s social workers, working to a whole family plan.

These multi-disciplinary teams work with families to tackle parental vulnerabilities and support children to remain with their families. They work in the community alongside early help teams, enabling continuing support that can be stepped up or down, giving families the best chance of sustaining long-term changes.

The FSP was designed collaboratively by social care workers and families, led by the senior operational managers who best know their teams, the quality of their work and their challenges. Now a year since its launch, it is receiving good feedback from families and staff.

Councillor Liz Brighouse, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Youth Services, said: “Every child should have an equal opportunity in life and every parent should be given the opportunity to become empowered and effective. Some face greater challenges and barriers than others and this is a key reason why we’ve created the new model, so we can switch our focus to being more preventative and address the parental needs that can sometimes lead to abuse and neglect.”

“FSP is about everyone taking responsibility: social workers, adult practitioners, families, and young people. I see it as a partnership. Only through listening, engaging, and attempting to understand do we build trust with children, families and among professionals with different skills and perspectives. That is why the collaborative approach has been and remains pivotal.”

Oxford University is already working with Oxfordshire County Council on an independent evaluation. A series of conversations with staff has already provided them with an early opportunity to assess the effectiveness of FSP in Oxfordshire, from the practitioner’s point of view.

Their findings indicate that the collaborative approach to engaging with families seems to be reaping benefits. Oxford University found that motivational interviewing techniques – such as understanding the cycle of change and ‘rolling with resistance’ – leads to a deeper understanding of parents and enables parental trust and confidence to develop.

The researchers concluded that with COVID-19 and social distancing, FSP has faced unprecedented challenges in its first year. Social workers have struggled in balancing higher workloads than were predicted, especially with the rise in court work caused by delays in the legal process. The pandemic has also inhibited the speed of getting to know new social care and adult practitioners as, like so many other professions, colleagues are currently not all working from the same office.

Councillor Liz Brighouse acknowledges these challenges but points out that: “Oxford University’s research tells us that Family Solutions Plus has meant we are better placed to continue assisting families and young people than we would have been with the previous fragmented model. A year in and we are already seeing fewer entries to care and fewer new and repeat child protection plans.

“I’m confident that we will keep improving safeguarding outcomes for children and their families across Oxfordshire. It was the collaborative approach that helped us transform the service. It is now that same ethos that will make it even better in the future.”

Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, added: “Scrutiny is part of our commitment to residents to be open and transparent in our planning and to engage with people to gauge what they think. Family Solutions Plus is already a great example of the benefit of collaboration and listening, a project to improve safeguarding outcomes for children and their families, designed with those who run and benefit from the service. This has been independently reviewed in its trial stage and is now returning to councillors for scrutiny.”

Councillor Ian Corkin, Chair of Oxfordshire County Council’s People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “Effective scrutiny is all about examining and testing the policies and decisions of the council, looking at them from the point of view of residents and I would encourage members of the public to take part by attending council meetings and scrutiny committees, either in person or remotely, if they can. It’s a key part of the democratic process, to see how councillors debate and discuss key decisions to ensure the best outcome for every resident.”

Residents can join the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee at County Hall on Thursday 11 November at 10am, or remotely by visiting https://oxon.cc/POSC11112021.

Further details are available on the People Scrutiny website, including the agenda for the meeting:

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