Pioneering changes to child protection services - Hertfordshire County Council

Family Safeguarding Teams are multi-agency teams that work with child protection and child in need cases. The Family Safeguarding project allows adult specialists and social workers to focus on direct, relationship-based therapeutic work. The aim is to transform the family life of children at the highest risk in the Hertfordshire community, not to monitor it.

The challenge:

Hertfordshire identified three key challenges to overcome in order to support more families to transform family life:

  • Hertfordshire were finding that the child protection system can be perceived as adversarial by families, and that there was a need to encourage families to work with social workers and other teams .
  • The Munro Review of Child Protection estimated that social workers spend four days out of every five fulfilling the ‘process’ duties laid out in ‘Working Together’ which leaves them only one day free to do any work with the 20 or so children and families on their caseloads, which is a challenging situation. 
  • Children’s social workers can be unfamiliar in developing therapeutic relationships with children or families so it can be challenging for them to work with families to bring about change. Work can risk becoming focused on trying to gain compliance with ‘stopping’ adults’ behaviours, which is unlikely to produce lasting change.  There was a desire to address and draw together the expertise to do this, in order to reduce the risk of continuing to have a revolving door, waste resources and not achieve change for children.

The solution
A radical overhaul of Hertfordshire’s child protection service has resulted in more families staying together and significant savings for the county council. For the first time in social care history, county-wide multi-disciplinary Family Safeguarding Teams have been realised. Co-located teams of skilled professionals in social work, domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health work together in teams to tackle the ‘toxic trio’ known to be the root cause of significant harm to children. This partnership initiative is developed by Hertfordshire County Council, Public Health and CCGs, Police, Probation and Rehabilitation Services and the Police and Crime Commissioner.

 A significant focus of the model is to invest in training all team members to a high standard in motivational interviewing. This helps them to engage parents and children in their own assessment of risk and change, to make strengthening relationships part of everyday work.

Working with their Integrated Children System (ICS) supplier to develop new recording systems, Hertfordshire have transformed recording and practice, massively reducing bureaucracy and repeat assessments, reports and recording.  This is known as Hertfordshire’s ‘workbook’. 

The impact 
An evaluation report by University of Bedfordshire researchers showed that police domestic abuse call outs reduced by 66 per cent, A&E visits by 53 per cent and reduced the number of children on child protection plans by 50 per cent. The total number of care cases in court has also reduced by 37 per cent.

Hertfordshire County Council is now supporting four other local authorities: Luton Borough Council, Peterborough City Council, Bracknell Forest Council and West Berkshire Council, to redesign their services and extend the evidence base of this revolutionary child protection model.

How is the new approach being sustained?
Family Safeguarding is being sustained in Hertfordshire through funding from Hertfordshire’s children’s services, adult care services, public health, the police and Crime Commissioner and East and North Hertfordshire CCG.

The data showing evidence of impact is to continue to be collected to demonstrate the continuing positive impact of Family Safeguarding.

Lessons learned

  • Effective leadership is necessary to drive forward the change effectively.
  • Embedding the new practice with all practitioners, with significant investment in training and support in the new ways of working, is critical.  There is also a need to appreciate that developing new skills takes time.
  • Sound working relationships with partners and ensuring joint agreement of the key performance indicator evidence is central to success, to support the sustainability of the new way of working in the longer term
  • Persistence in the recruitment of the new adult workers, and consideration and support for their induction into the teams, is required.
Bright Futures

Bright Futures

Helping children and young people to fulfil their potential is a key ambition of all councils, but our children’s services are under increasing pressure. 

Bright Futures is our call for fully funded children's services.

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