After working with children in care for six years. Amber jumped at the chance to lead Blackpool Council’s new edge of care team in children’s services.
Newly branded as the ‘families together team’, this edge of care service consists of two elements – family group conferencing (FGC) which Blackpool calls ‘families together meetings’ and the ‘families together intervention’, which uses the solution focused brief therapy (SFBT) model with families. This solution focused brief therapy model draws on the strengths-based approach and uses motivational interviewing with families to support sustained change using family and wider community support. Combined, these two elements provide short term, time limited support for families and children at risk of entering into the care.
Research shows that outcomes for children who are looked after are poorer than for children who do not enter the care system and who can live at home with their families safely, according to NICE and the NSPCC*.
These poor outcomes are linked to the emotional impact, the stigma of being a child in care, and placement breakdowns when children move to other caregivers. And for Amber, who has experience in Blackpool’s fostering team and later the ‘supporting our children’s’ team, this is an area she is keen to develop.
“The aim is that through this service, we will improve the lives of Blackpool families, reduce the need for children to be accommodated within local authority care, and will also develop and sustain positive relationships between families and the wider community services,” she says. “The goal is to sustain positive change without the need for children social care interventions over prolonged periods of time.”
A secondary layer of support
The ‘families together team’ does not replace the work of primary social work teams but sits alongside and enhances it. This means that social work teams continue to provide the core safeguarding services required in supporting children and their families but can access the support of this new team if they feel children are at risk of entering local authority care.
Referrals to the service come from social workers involved in children’s primary care and will considered on a case by case basis; reducing the barriers of families needing to fit ‘criteria’. The team could support families subject to child in need or child protection plans who are on the cusp of entering local authority care, young people at risk of custody, or families where children and young people have been accommodated in urgent circumstances for a short period under section 20 at any one time.
The ‘families together team’ has identified that the input from ‘family together meetings’ (FGC) to support families to make changes that can be sustained over a longer period is essential to ‘families together’ intervention.
“The intervention itself will consist of 12 sessions of solution focused brief therapy and is outcomes led, so only ends where we have evidenced positive outcomes for a family,” says Amber. “The team works not only with the children in the family household but the whole family”.
Social workers working in the ‘families together team’ hold a small caseload of around 10 families at one time. The team works closely with all agencies to help the family drive change. This means working closely with the primary social work team and wider agencies around the family such as education, health, child and adolescent mental health services, youth offending team. The aim is to promote solution focused working, and support the family to sustain change beyond the support from the ‘families together team.’
“Having lower caseloads will allow for intensive working, reflection and planning. Paired working within team between social worker, and family support worker will also allow practitioners to focus on consistent relationships with and between family members,” says Amber.
We are building their resilience and ability to sustain change for themselves
Blackpool draws on its alliance with Essex County Council, which is a partner in practice. Blackpool’s edge of care service is inspired by Essex’s version, (D-BIT Service) which uses solution focused brief therapy as the practice model.
Practitioners support families in managing conflict, developing better communication skills, and the service aims to develop and improve behaviours, relationships, confidence, aspiration, employability, living conditions and mental and physical health.
Social workers and family support workers undergo specialist training to embed the practice model and a further training is set aside for managers to embed the approach in all aspects of management including supervision.
“It’s easy for us to highlight the safeguarding concerns and be automatically drawn to the problem alone but the edge of care offer will consider with families their strengths, the strengths of their families around them and wider communities to reduce the risks”.
Alongside the solution focused brief therapy model, social workers and family support workers adopt Blackpool’s practice model Blackpool families rock, which embeds a relationship-based approach and uses restorative practice as part of daily practice to work with families. “So rather than looking at a deficit model, we are going in and working with families and pulling out their strengths, building their resilience, self-esteem and confidence. And sometimes this confidence builds motivation and an ability to drive their own change.”
A key strength in Blackpool’s edge of care service is promoting inclusion in the wider community because this also builds resilience, says Amber.
“Sometimes, there is a lot of expectation on families to change and that can be overwhelming. Our role is to be realistic about these expectations and help families by building strengths and support from the wider community to achieve change,” she says. “What we don’t want to do is create reliance. We want to go in and work with families and family support networks to support them to make positive changes and be able to step out and taper down that support safely.
“That way, we are building their resilience and ability to sustain change for themselves without the need for children social care and statutory intervention long term.
“That is what we are keen to do in Blackpool. We are not here as a quick fix. But what we can do is start that process of change where families are able to start making changes that can hopefully be sustained with a bit of a helping hand.”
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