Social workers ‘key to keeping children out of care’

Ofsted has backed the importance of the social worker relationship with families, finding it is the most effective way to prevent children from entering care.

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Ofsted has backed the importance of the social worker relationship with families, finding it is the most effective way to prevent children from entering care.

In a report called Edging Away from Care, published this week, the watchdog examined the experiences of 43 troubled families across 11 councils who had been able to keep their children at home. It found those families in relationships with “open, honest, reliable and persistent” professionals were most likely to engage with services and avoid care.

Families believed the personal qualities of the professionals were more important than the model of intervention used in successful cases. They valued approaches which built on their strengths, respected their perspective and where professionals worked with them to achieve shared goals.

The nature and length of interventions varied across the 11 authorities, including an intensive support team in Rochdale which aimed to respond to families’ issues within 24 hours and a team of child-in-need coordinators in Manchester.

Critically, those who successfully supported families worked “flexibly and responsively”, such as working evenings and weekends and having clear arrangements for contact when lead workers were unavailable.

Ofsted’s findings echo those of Professor Eileen Munro, whose review of child protection systems in England found the relationship between a child/family and a social worker was the only factor proven by research to actually improve outcomes for children.

Speaking to Community Care, John Goldup, Ofsted’s director of social care, agreed it was difficult to measure the quality of relationships between social workers and families but pointed out inspectors would soon be expected to spend more time talking to children and “directly observing practice and relationships” to do so.

He said the report’s findings showed that intensive interventions, although costly, were often worth doing to keep children out of care, which was equally expensive.

“Although care can be transformative for many children, it is debatable how effective care is for young people who enter the system as teenagers.”

Ofsted would also be looking at other questions raised by the report such as whether it was possible to identify if certain approaches fitted specific types of problems, he added.

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