Preventive policy helps children in care, says Merton director

A push towards services that prevent children going into the care system is indirectly supporting the government’s personalisation agenda, argued a children services director today.
Dave Hill, director of children schools and families at Merton Council, south London, said he supported the government’s push in its Care Matters agenda to prevent children going into the care system. 
But he argued that as a result of falling numbers in his borough, due to early intervention and family support services, the children who were actually placed in care were given a “really tailored service”.
This meant that social workers, as the “corporate parents”, were able to give children in care a much better service. But he stressed that if there is a lack of prevention services, “personalisation becomes impossible.”
Since 2001, the number of children in care in Merton has dropped from 280 to 105, and Hill hopes that the borough has met a figure that will stabilise.  
Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services conference in Bournemouth, Hill said his position on the Care Matters agenda was clear: “We will never get to zero [the number of children in care]. That would be bizarre.”
But he added: “We have a philosophy [in Merton] of keeping young people out of the care system and have driven in a set of values and principles that have worked well.”
The Care Matters white paper , published in June, outlined proposals to transform the provisions and outcomes for children in the care system and focused on the importance of prevention. Follow-up legislation will be published shortly.
In 2001, the Commission for Social Care Inspection named Merton as a special measures authority and noted that it had a gap in services for adolescents. This led to it setting up a partnership with children’s charity NCH in 2004 to transform its services over five years.
“There is no magic wand.  It’s about doing the solid stuff every day, year in year out, that makes a difference,” said Hill.  
In response to the proposal in Care Matters to set up independent social worker practices outside of the local authorities, Hill said the idea was “fundamentally flawed” as there were not enough trained professionals to meet the demands of both the local authorities and the independent practices.
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