Sheffield City Council has used government funding to set up a specialist multi agency support team, which works alongside the access and inclusion service to help keep the most vulnerable children in school by providing holistic support to the whole family.
‘One family, one plan’
Sheffield City Council receives government funding through the Supporting Families Programme to deliver a range of interventions that focus on providing help to families to prevent escalation of need.
In Sheffield, the programme is known as Building Successful Families and has led to the creation of a multi-agency support team and a range of specialist workers to support frontline services with advice and guidance.
The team works closely with schools, NHS, community and the voluntary sector to identify families who will benefit from multi agency support. The majority of referrals come via the family common assessment framework. Families can self-refer or could be identified and referred in through a step down from social care or by other professionals, such as midwives, community youth teams, GPs or the voluntary sector.
The mantra is “one family, one plan”. The multi-agency support team works closely with attendance and inclusion services, enabling preventative approaches to be developed regarding school attendance and achievement for the most vulnerable children.
Where education is the key headline issue the referrals can be allocated from a consultation, a school review meeting or a panel hearing, says Council Assistant Service Manager for Access and Inclusion Tracey Rice.
“A key trigger is when school attendance drops significantly and this can be a symptom of additional support needs within the family. There are many family issues where help is offered, not only to help children to be in and stay in school but also to support families in the early years and those experiencing domestic abuse, mental health issues and a range of other support needs.
“The aim is to improve outcomes for children, young people and their family which can be sustained into the future and impact positively on long term success. This could include improved family relationships, good educational and employment outcomes, increased attainment and attendance as well as improved mental health or better financial stability.”
Making sure the parents’ and child’s voices are heard
“Team around the family” meetings are held in partnership with the family. Families are involved in setting their own goals and planning their interventions so they feel in control of the work and the parents’ and child’s voice is heard.
Ms Rice said: “The first thing we do is meet with the child and family and develop a plan. We always place the child at the heart of the plan - asking them what they want and need. The focus is not just on the parental / carers’ wishes as even the youngest children we work with can articulate and express their own preferences.
“We tend to group things as short, medium and long-term goals so the family and child can see what can be done. It is important to break the issues down and start trying to solve them step by step.
“When a child has not attended school for a while, we always do the return very gradually. We just start with doing the journey to school, walking up to the building. Then we may move on to just going into the entrance or handing something into the school office.
“Then it is about building up time in the classroom bit by bit. We never go beyond what has been agreed in advance. That helps build the trust. We always say if they need to leave the classroom and speak to their keyworker, they can. The key worker will be close by, although we do stay out of the classroom as that sometimes that draws attention to the child / young person.”
The help provided can be pretty intensive and normally lasts a maximum of 12 to 15 weeks. But as part of that support networks are explored and resilience factors considered and built upon so that when involvement with the teams conclude the families are equipped to continue their journey towards their goals.
‘School exclusion does not happen in isolation’
Alongside the re-integration into school, other support is arranged some of which is funded through the Supporting Families Programme. The local child and adult mental health services run by the NHS provide a dedicated resource to Building Successful Families so families can be supported if needed to identify early preventative support.
Similar arrangements are in place with employment specialists, Citizens Advice and the teams that deal with debt and housing, domestic abuse and substance misuse.
Support can also be drawn in from the teams who provide advice to schools for pupils with autism or speech and language concerns, while parenting support programmes also funded via Supporting Families are available.
One of those who has been helped is Luke. He was a year nine pupil, who had previously been doing well, but then there was a marked change in his behaviour. He became withdrawn and grades started to slip. He then got aggressive towards teachers and was eventually excluded for three days. Soon afterwards, he started missing school himself.
A worker was allocated and made contact with the family. His mother explained they were struggling financially – there was no money for bus fares, new uniform or even for hot water. Both parents’ mental health was suffering and there were arguments and domestic violence.
New uniform was sought from school, financial advice was received to consolidate debts, a bus pass was purchased for Luke to travel to school, domestic abuse workers visited to speak to the mother and employment support was provided. Both parents sought and found work, used breakfast club and after school provision, received further financial support and slowly the arguments and violence reduced.
The changes took around eight months to see a real impact. Two years later Luke passed all his GCSEs and was accepted into college.
Luke is just one many who have been helped. Over the last year more than 1,000 families were supported by the attendance and inclusion and multi-agency support teams. Six-month follow-up showed more than 80 per cent had had their needs met and achieved their agreed goals.
“It is about tailoring the support to the family’s needs,” says Ms Rice. “School exclusion does not happen in isolation. The key is to identify families and children that need support as quickly as possible. It’s fantastic when you see positive outcomes.”
Tracey Rice, Assistant Service Manager for Inclusion and Attendance, Education and Skills, Sheffield City Council: firstname.lastname@example.org