By Vicky Metheringham, head of safeguarding and looked-after children, North Yorkshire County Council
The number of children subject to child protection plans has reduced significantly in North Yorkshire in the past five years.
In 2011 there were 436 children subject to child protection plans, now there are 305. This equates to 34.8 per 10,000 children, almost a fifth less than the national average of 42.9 per 10,000 children.
So how did we achieve this reduction at a time when the national trend is going in the opposite direction? We’ve done this by investing in a range of approaches and interventions that engage families in assessments and deliver plans that ensure families are safe. Let’s look at these in turn:
Multi-agency screening and assessment
Our Customer Contact Centre Multi-Agency Screening and Assessment Team is staffed with health professionals, police colleagues, workers from our 0-19 Prevention Service, and social workers.
This team, through effective screening, ensures referrals go to the right agency at the right time. In January we created one referral form and one referral process, which has further strengthened this and resulted in a greater number of families being diverted to services that are better placed to meet need.
By providing a targeted service more families receive universal services.
Signs of Safety
North Yorkshire has adopted the Signs of Safety strength-based approach to assessment and planning and we have been using it consistently across our social work teams since 2012.
The common language of Signs of Safety, together with the associated tools, has allowed a universally consistent approach to the interventions offered to families.
Since introducing Signs of Safety social workers have been better able to identify danger and risk and families are able to understand more clearly the danger and risk, even if they don’t agree.
As Ofsted said in its 2014 inspection of North Yorkshire’s children’s services: “[Signs of Safety] provides clear early direction for social workers to ensure responses are proportionate to vulnerability and children and families are not subjected unnecessarily to child protection processes.”
Prevention and social care merged
In April 2015 we merged our new 0-19 Prevention Service and social care into the Children and Families Service.
The prevention service working together with social work has provided further opportunities for joined-up and integrated provision.
The core offer that has been developed across the service has led to much greater uptake of services available.
As a result there are 2,500 cases open to the prevention service, which is double the number of targeted interventions that were delivered when prevention was delivered through separate teams.
Because of this referrals going to social care are at their lowest level for five years.
The range of interventions available to families and social workers working with complex families greatly contributed to the reduction in the number of children needing child protection plans.
Examples of these interventions include the family group conferencing, family intervention workers, multi-systemic therapy and the No Wrong Door team, which works with adolescents.
These services offer flexible approaches to working differently with families using skills such as therapeutic crisis intervention and motivational interviewing.
For example, No Wrong Door provides timely interventions such as Outward Bound activities that help build young people’s resilience and also offers flexible outreach support during evenings and weekends to prevent escalating concerns.
Improvements to the children and young people’s care service, such as intensive 24/7 support for families, has already led to a fall in the number of looked-after children.
The No Wrong Door will build on this by giving each adolescent in the care system a key worker who will stick with the young person through thick and thin to access the right services at the right time and in the right place to meet their need.
It’s a tough love approach for young people who have had a lifetime of experiencing rejection and failure. Each key worker will be supported by a team with the range of necessary skills and specialisms.
Another factor enabling the reduction in the number of children on child protection plans is that we have a strong, stable and skilled workforce.
We have low turnover that is 8% below the national average and because we are an employer of choice we have no agency staff. This creates great stability for families who see continuity in social work interventions as a result.
Ways we have achieved this include investing in newly qualified social workers.
We take a number of student social workers and Step Up to Social Work students and a good many of who are then recruited into the council, where we have a robust ASYE programme with protected-and-balanced caseloads and weekly mentoring support from senior practitioners.
We have also invested in a strong workforce development programme and worked hard to stabilise caseloads so that social workers want to work in North Yorkshire.
Strong partnership working
Finally, we have great partnership working in North Yorkshire.
Police and health colleagues work hand-in-hand with the children’s social work services and sit at both strategic and operational levels. Children and families benefit from collaboration at every level.
Is it safe?
So how do we know that this reduction in children on child protection plans is a safe one?
We have a range of actions to ensure children in North Yorkshire are safe. These include ensuring, via the local safeguarding children board, that scrutiny of multi-agency audits track a range of measures to make sure practice is strong and safe.
Social care and prevention also conduct regular audit activity from team managers right through to the director of children’s services. These audits are sustained and thorough.
Partners in Practice
We are rightly proud of our safeguarding work and recently had that work recognized by being awarded Partners in Practice status by the Department for Education.
When the Prime Minister announced the Partners in Practice areas he said: “These 6 exemplary local authorities will model excellence and innovation in the delivery of children’s social care services, and will lead the way in demonstrating to others how these changes can be achieved.”
But of course improvement work for all local authorities is always ongoing. North Yorkshire remains highly ambitious to make the county a great place both to work and crucially a great place to grow up.