A council’s “exceptional” overhaul of child safeguarding services has saved £2.6m and cut the number of children in care or on child protection plans, an evaluation has found.
Researchers from the University of Bedfordshire found the introduction of a family safeguarding hub in Hertfordshire had reduced the number of child protection plans by 30% between March 2015 and June 2016 and delivered “clear reductions” in both the number of children entering care and families allocated to social workers.
The model was introduced in January 2015 after Hertfordshire council was awarded £4.8m from the Department for Education’s social care innovation fund. The hub takes a multi-agency approach to child protection, with mental health, domestic abuse and substance misuse workers working alongside children’s social workers. Workers were also trained in motivational interviewing to help embed the approach.
The evaluation report said that the outcomes achieved by the hub meant there were “national lessons” for other services.
“Multidisciplinary teams are a very promising approach for children’s services. This was about more than simply introducing adult workers; it was about creating the structures within which they could contribute to changed team dynamics,” the report said.
The researchers found the model had already delivered annual savings of over £2.5m per year and had the potential to save more as it became embedded in services.
The evaluation also praised the introduction of “revolutionary” interagency performance indicators that offered a more comprehensive picture of how the whole local child protection system was faring.
“These are genuine and measurable outcomes from the work of children’s services, for children, adults and the services concerned. The involvement of police, or use of emergency health services, are important outcome measures,” it said.
“The suite of indicators provides an opportunity for strategic oversight of the service by a variety of agencies; and the influence of children’s services on the need for police involvement, school attendance or hospital admission can be monitored and developed.”
Staff interviewed were positive about the changes and how they were managed, and conflicts over roles shrank over time, the report said. Earlier this year, Hertfordshire was given £11.6 million in extra funding by the Department for Education to embed the safeguarding model in Luton, Peterborough, Bracknell Forest and West Berkshire.
The evaluation found case studies of “moving testimonies to the transformative impact that effective professional help can have with families where there are serious presenting problems”.
“A … crucial element is that the adult workers and the child social worker work closely together as a team. This is different from the more normal experience of services provided by different organisations, where the level of coordination can vary considerably,” the report said.
It concluded: “All local authorities should consider the potential that multidisciplinary working has for improving practice and outcomes in children’s services. In Hertfordshire, adult specialists have played a central part in creating more family focused assessment and intervention, and this has helped reduce the need for children to enter care and contributed to other positive outcomes.”
Teresa Heritage, Hertfordshire’s cabinet member for children’s services, said families supported by the model had found it “much more helpful and less threatening” than other approaches.
She said: “This evaluation report endorses our belief in this approach and the findings support our rationale for creating these changes, adding to the growing evidence that this method works.
“I am really proud of a partnership that is being recognised as best practice nationally, we have much still to do but I am confident that we will succeed in improving families’ outcomes.”
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