A new approach to child protection helps families stay together

A new way of working in child protection helps keep families together, an evaluation report by University of Bedfordshire researchers published today revealed.

The Family Safeguarding Hertfordshire project, funded by the Department of Education’s (DfE) Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, saw the University work with Hertfordshire County Council and their Family Safeguarding Partnership to change the way they support families involved with Child Protection Services.

The evaluation by the University’s Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work & Social Care involved over 120 families and 140 practitioners and the analysis of data relating to over 900 families. The research identified domestic abuse, substance abuse and mental health, as the three main reasons why parents might not be able to care safely for their children.

The project brought together practitioners in mental health, domestic abuse and substance misuse to work alongside social workers within family safeguarding teams, provided training in motivational interviewing, introduced group supervision and designed a new electronic case notes system.

The new multi-disciplinary teams were able to support families with underlying, complex issues, reducing the number of days children spent in care.

Practitioners and families were positive about the new approach. One father who took part in the research said: “My recovery worker really understands and ‘gets it.’ So does the social worker. They allowed us to be open with no judging. It has been a really helpful and positive experience of workers sharing a common goal.”

A social worker who took part in the research said: “Families have got a better chance. The way we are working now, it makes it easier for the families to engage and increase their chances of staying together.”

Amy Lynch, Research Fellow from the University said: “Our evaluation of Family Safeguarding Hertfordshire was wide-ranging. Our observations of meetings between the teams and families showed that some skill levels were increasing; we heard from parents that they felt more supported to make changes for their families; and the teams told us how working closely together meant they could offer more help to families. Analysis of children services, police and NHS data showed that outcomes for families were improving.”

As a result of the evaluation, Hertfordshire County Council will continue with the Family Safeguarding approach and the report recommends that other Children’s Services organisations adopt a similar approach. Hertfordshire County Council has received further funding from the DfE to roll-out the approach to four other local authorities: Luton Borough Council, Peterborough City Council, Bracknell Forest Council and West Berkshire Council.

Director of Family Safeguarding in Hertfordshire Sue Williams said “We are delighted that the University’s detailed evaluation provides independent evidence of the effectiveness of our Family Safeguarding model, and recommends that all Local Authorities should consider implementing similar approaches in their child protection work.  Multi-disciplinary teams and motivational interviewing have transformed our work with families and significantly improved our practice.  We hope other authorities can benefit from our learning.”

The DfE’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme funded this project and its independent evaluation. Co-ordination of the evaluation was undertaken by the Rees Centre from the University of Oxford www.reescentre.education.ox.ac.uk

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