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Blackpool Council

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How social work expertise is helping children find stable homes

© iStock

Blackpool Council outlines their therapeutic focus on preparing young people with the skills to be able to commit to life within a family unit.

Jack will be spending the next few weeks in a newly-launched therapeutic care centre to equip him to tackle his emotional and behavioural challenges and bring him closer to finding a permanent family home.

The centre is a partnership between Blackpool Council and social work and psychology provider Innovate Services, and Jack’s placement is the result of discussions between his social worker Ann Rea, the allocated independent reviewing officer (IRO), and experts in therapeutic care from Innovate.

Creating stability. © iStock

For Ann, the centre’s purpose is to tackle the barriers to a stable placement that some children that are looked after face due to trauma.

“When a child comes into the care of a local authority, we social workers want to provide them with stability,” Ann says. “And that means creating a nurturing environment, and hopefully one in a family unit. If a child has experienced traumatic early years with abuse and neglect, they can sometimes struggle to fit in and settle within a family unit because they have never experienced that positive interaction or the love and care.

“They can put up barriers because they don’t trust anybody, known as blocked trust, and this can manifest in negative or aggressive behaviour that often foster carers struggle to manage.

“Having a centre where children that struggle with attachment can go to, to receive specialised therapeutic support, will hopefully put them in a better position for when they are fostered into a family unit.”

Role of social worker

The Innovate Services centre will provide young people aged 11 to 18 with support over a 16-week period.

Children that have had lots of foster care placement breakdowns are obvious candidates for the new centre but Ann says other factors are considered by the multi-disciplinary panel meetings that assess children for the centre. These include the young person’s strengths and the targeted therapeutic intervention (music/art or play therapies) that the young person may benefit from.

The social workers and IROs at Blackpool work in conjunction with therapists, higher-learning teaching assistants, and educational psychologists with background in attachment trauma, to assess the young person’s suitability for the placement, says Dana Ashley, head of service at Innovate Services.

Dana Ashley

Process

According to IRO team manager Anna Stowell, “The aim at the beginning is to identify where the child fits with the areas of need and then chart how they are progressing to create an individualised and therapeutic care package.”

Paramount in all of this is the voice of the child, which Ann highlights in relation to Jack’s case.

“He has been able to tell us how he is feeling and what he wanted,” she says. “He admits that he doesn’t know how to manage his behaviour but he acknowledges that he struggles to regulate it. And of course with every foster placement breakdown, it is a rejection for the child. If they know that they are struggling then they are more likely to accept the support.”

Dana explains that a mid-point review is triggered after the child has been at the centre for six weeks to determine the next steps. This can be rehabilitation back home, a placement with family or independence. This point of transition includes equipping young people with a transition plan and offering a further 12-week outreach support package.

Outreach staff, including key workers for the children or young person, the therapist and, if still, appropriate the educational psychologist and higher learning teaching assistant, will offer support to build upon the young person’s resilience. This also helps to improve communication between the child and care givers and alleviate any relationship difficulties in order to enable placement stability or promote independence, says Dana.

*The video was created before the coronavirus pandemic.

Model of practice

The work with the young people is informed by the borough’s practice model, Blackpool Families Rock, a  strengths-based, restorative, solution-focused approach, which all staff across the service are involved in embedding. The centre uses the secure base model, rooted in the idea that every child needs a care giver attuned to their needs, which provides the young person with the skills to commit to and live within a family environment again.

“It’s really about trying to work with that young person to develop and make attachments to their care givers and that is done through offering that therapeutic key working intervention,” says Dana.

Jeanette Richards, assistant director of children’s services at the council, says: “Blackpool is thinking outside the box and is passionate about addressing the high numbers of children in residential care, and growing our own foster carers. Working with Innovate Services is another strategy in tackling that and driving forward with embedding the Blackpool Families Rock model.”

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