Council invests £6m in tackling high care numbers

By Joanne Parkes

| 09 October 2019

Lancashire County Council is to invest £6m in early intervention to cut high numbers of children being taken into care.

Better support could enable more children in Lancashire to remain at home. Picture: Pavla Zakova/Adobe Stock

The sum has been earmarked by the local authority after it was named as one of 18 councils in line for a share of a £84m government initiative: Strengthening Families, Protecting Children.

The county aims to reduce current higher than average rates by up to 38 per cent over three years, from more than 2,000.

Lancashire recorded the highest level of applications of any local authority for the first quarter of 2018/19, according to figures released by the Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) in July of this year.

This showed a percentage rise from 14.6 per cent to 16.16 from 2017/18 to 2018/19, bucking the national trend of falling applications - with a 6.2 per cent drop Between April and June.

As one of the larger authorities being funded under the scheme, Lancashire expects to receive a significant amount towards its financial commitment.

The three-year grant will see new family safeguarding teams set up, after which the scheme is designed to be self-funding.

Features of the new approach include:

  • Specialist professionals working with families to prevent family breakdown, by tackling issues such as substance misuse, domestic abuse and mental health problems
  • Parents to be encouraged to take positive steps to address any issues they may have, enabling their children to stay at home "wherever it is safe to do so"
  • In addition, intervention is proposed through partners including schools, the police, health and other voluntary, community and faith sector organisations
  • This is intended to increase support and complement the work of new family safeguarding teams
  • Extra help will also be provided to children and young people when it is in their best interests to go into local authority care, said the council
  • The council hopes that the new system will enable social workers to devote the necessary attention to more complex cases.

The approach was pioneered by Hertfordshire County Council in 2015 and has since been extended to other areas of the country.

Research has shown the scheme has the potential to reduce the number of children involved in care proceedings by around 38 per cent over three years.

Phillippa Williamson, Lancashire's cabinet member for children, young people and schools, described the funding as "much-needed".

"This is an innovative and new way of looking at the way we support children and families," said Williamson.

"There are currently more than 2,000 children in care in Lancashire, which is higher than the national average.

"We want to ensure the best outcome for each and every child, and believe that in some cases early intervention to address problems within a family may mean a child could remain at home with proper support.

"Research shows that if children can stay with their parents in a stable home and family environment they should."

She said that "of course" safety issues and long-term wellbeing meant that some children have to leave home, adding: "However, for the majority of families, if we could support them earlier and tailor support to meet their needs, the action of removing the children may be able to be prevented before problems become more serious.

"This new approach and funding also give social workers more time to deal with these, more complex cases."

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