- A key worker is attached to young people in or on the edge of care until 25 if necessary to help ensure successful transition to independence
- Outcomes include a fall in crime and missing incidents, and improved safety and wellbeing, plus a reduction in care numbers
In 2014, North Yorkshire Council's children's home staff were expanding their skills through outreach work, helping vulnerable adolescents build the self-esteem, resilience and relationships needed to remain safely at home or return home from care.
The opportunity to build on this preventative and restorative approach arose from a double catalyst: the need to close one of the authority's three children's homes due to austerity measures, and a funding opportunity through the Department for Education's Children's Social Care Innovation Programme. No Wrong Door group manager Janice Nicholson says building relationships lay at the heart of the initiative. "We knew we could keep young people at home and that by developing self-esteem, you have more chance of getting them into education and employment," she says.
So the authority converted its remaining two children's homes in Harrogate and Scarborough into two "hubs", combining residential care with a team of specialist professionals, outreach work and alternative accommodation for young people in or on the edge of care. No Wrong Door started in April 2015, with £2.1m of DfE funding. Each six-bed hub has a manager, two deputy managers, the full-time equivalent of 8.5 residential workers and six "portfolio leads". Residential staff specialise in one of six areas: safety, rebuilding relationships, accommodation transitions, education and training, resilience and self-esteem, and emotional health and wellbeing. Each hub also has a clinical psychologist, known as a "life coach", a speech and language therapist and a police officer who builds relationships with young people and helps keep them safe.
Over-11s on the edge of care or whose foster care placement is at risk of breakdown are referred by social workers, often following multiple "tipping points" such as missing episodes. A key worker compiles an action plan with the young person and, through case discussions, draws on the expertise of the hub's specialist professionals, who work directly with the young person and family where needed. All use Signs of Safety, a strengths-based approach to working with families which focuses on solving problems in partnerships. A teenager who has been going missing may be visited two or three times a week by a key worker, who builds understanding of why she went missing, helping her understand the risks and manage feelings, while a family support worker may help her parents build relationships and stability at home. The hub's police officer may help protect her from exploitation, disrupting negative influences and helping her build resilience.
A weekly forum, chaired by the authority's head of safeguarding and looked-after children, considers social workers' requests for hub placements for teenagers needing more intensive care than fostering. The 12 beds have an occupancy rate of around 60 per cent, which Nicholson sees as a sign of the project's success. "We don't look at residential care as a long-term plan, but as a bridging placement - part of a continuum of interventions," she explains.
Hub residents and their key worker compile a care and progression plan, drawing in support from the specialist team. Each hub offers them progression out of residential care through placements of up to 18 months with two "hub community" foster families. It also offers two supported lodgings hosts and two supported accommodation units, enabling over-16s to try out independent living within five minutes' drive of the hub, while continuing to receive support from staff. "If it doesn't work, they can come back to a hub bed and we'll start again," says Nicholson. "This gives them a much more staggered move into independence, more similar to what would happen with families' own children."
A bespoke placement may be offered to young people needing residential care but who are not ready for hub life, due to social or behavioural issues. This could involve staying in a holiday cottage with hub staff, sometimes joined by family or foster carers, for up to 28 days of intensive relationship-building and support, removing their need for residential care or helping ensure its success.
Up to May, No Wrong Door had engaged 367 young people, 45 of them in residential care. Hub residents' readiness to move on is discussed by the key worker and hub team, and agreed with the social worker and independent reviewing officer, as part of care planning. "We ask what we need to do to help them believe in themselves and think they can be part of society," says Nicholson.
No Wrong Door has helped the authority hit its 2017/18 target of reducing the number of looked-after children from 468 in June 2014 to 400 at the beginning of June 2017. Of the edge-of-care young people it engaged until September last year, 86 per cent remained at home.
Of 266 cases closed in 2016/17, 84 per cent partially or fully achieved their aims. A Loughborough University evaluation, due this summer, is expected to show a reduction in emotional difficulties as measured through Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires.
Analysis by Loughborough University shows hospital and accident and emergency admissions reducing by 92 and 88 per cent respectively for 72 No Wrong Door participants between 2014 and June 2016.
A separate report shows a halving of arrests among No Wrong Door young people from 62 to 31 between the first and last quarter of 2015, and a decrease in missing incidents from 203 to 70, saving an estimated £200,000.