Brighter Futures, Ealing Council

Pilot aimed to prevent placement and family breakdown among older children in and on the edge of care by developing social workers' skills to build trusting, consistent relationships with them.

  • Social workers with small caseloads worked intensively and in multi-disciplinary teams to help young people sustain positive change
  • The model was rolled out across Ealing in April 2017


Analysis by Impower Consulting in 2014 suggested that with the right intervention and support, the number of looked-after young people in Ealing could reduce by up to 30 per cent. The west London authority also wanted to reduce the 50 per cent proportion of looked-after children in out-of-borough care by building the skills of foster carers and staff's capacity to support them.

So after bidding in November 2014, the council won £3.5m from the Department for Education's Children's Social Care Innovation Programme to trial a new model of working with adolescents in and on the edge of care, developed in partnership with Impower, social business Catch 22, Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group and West London Mental Health NHS Trust.

Launched in June 2015, the 18-month pilot, called Brighter Futures, involved social workers supporting young people on the edge of care through two multi-agency support teams (Masts), covering the east and west of the borough, each with two pods. A separate two-pod team called Connect supported looked-after young people. In each pod, two social workers, plus a fostering social worker in the Connect pods, worked alongside a deputy manager, clinical psychologist and family support worker. Teams also included a youth worker, youth justice worker, education specialist, Connexions worker and youth mentors, helping engage young people in positive activities.

Teams received five monthly training sessions in skills including team working, networking and building relationships with families and hard-to-engage young people, through psychological approaches such as mentalisation, understanding the person's mental state and how that influences behaviour.

They worked with high-risk young people on child-in-need or child protection plans, from families facing issues including domestic violence or substance misuse.

Social workers managed cases, but could visit young people alongside another "lead worker" such as the youth worker, who could be supporting the young person, while the social worker worked with the family to improve home stability. Caseloads of eight enabled social workers to offer more intensive support for young people, visiting several times a week if needed. Administrative tasks were taken on by practice support workers, to help free up social workers for direct work.

The Family Partnership Model - an evidence-based approach developed by South London and Maudsley NHS Trust that empowers young people and families to overcome difficulties and build resilience - was used by teams. Young people helped shape their support plans, which were drafted and reviewed by teams during a weekly four-hour supervision meeting. This enabled social workers to take a fresh approach by drawing on a wide range of multi-agency expertise.

Monthly two-hour "practice integration" sessions helped them develop "reflective practice", getting underneath issues and pooling ideas about how to tackle them. Teams also held 30-minute daily meetings, sharing updates on cases and "checking in" on each other, enabling requests for support.

Principal social worker Sharon Scott says this helped social workers feel more resilient and guided for the challenges ahead, highly valuing the "shared accountability and responsibility".

"It gave them a model to use, with shared language," she says. "The group supervision and daily meetings gave them the feeling they were being looked after, making them feel better able to look after the families they were working with. Group supervision is key for social workers in Ealing; it helps them stop feeling burnt out."

Connect social workers and colleagues also received training in Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, an attachment theory-based approach helping adopted or fostered children learn to trust. Connect team manager Hannah Foxcroft says this led to social workers being "skilled-up to do work that might otherwise be done by clinical psychologists".

"While it's important that we still have a psychologist on the team to support us, this gave social workers confidence to work in a more therapeutic way," she says. "It's about understanding the solution lies in the relationship between the carer and young person."

Multi-agency support teams worked with 239 young people over the pilot, and the Connect team worked with 50. Ealing Council agreed in July to roll out the teams and since April, its six locality teams for children in need have been reorganised into four Masts, a borough-wide four-pod team with 12 social workers for adolescents and three similarly-staffed geographical hubs for younger children, maintaining the pilot caseloads of around eight. An additional two-pod Connect team supports looked-after children.


Of 51 young people identified at risk of sexual exploitation, 60 per cent reduced their risk, with missing episodes reducing or stopping for 80 per cent. Around half the 49 whose parents had requested they were taken into care have been supported to remain safely at home. Of the 89 on child protection plans, 47 per cent were stepped down to child-in-need status and a quarter had their case closed.

An evaluation by University College London and the University of Bedfordshire shows a saving of £800,000 from enabling nine young people in out-of-borough residential care to move to Ealing foster placements. Only one placement broke down.

The evaluation also shows the multi-disciplinary training resulted in improved self-efficacy, attitudes and working relationships. Scott says any professional insecurity social workers felt about this case-sharing approach has been outweighed by their increased fulfilment from being "enabled to do the work they came into social work to do; working intensively with families".

The number of agency social workers fell from 30 to 10 per cent.

This article is part of CYP Now's special report on social work with children and families. Click here for more

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