Children's social workers to learn psychology techniques in trailblazer project

Neil Puffett
Thursday, January 22, 2015

All children's social workers will be trained in advanced psychological counselling techniques as part of a radical shake-up of child protection services in Hertfordshire, funded with nearly £5m of government money.

Hertfordshire County Council wants to keep more familis together by changing the way children's social workers practice. Picture: Hertfordshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council wants to keep more familis together by changing the way children's social workers practice. Picture: Hertfordshire County Council

The new approach will see 26 “family safeguarding teams” set up across the county, each made up of several children’s social workers, as well as a domestic abuse specialist and a community psychiatric nurse.

Each member of staff will receive training in “motivational interviewing” techniques, a practice originally developed by psychologists in the 1980s to help problem drinkers.

The idea is to help parents of children considered to be the most at risk to explore their attitude towards behaviour change, using warmth and empathy to strengthen the parents’ motivation to change through a process of negotiation.

The concept is currently being trialled in Islington, but this will be the first time it will form the basis of child safeguarding practice across an entire authority.

The £4.86m Hertfordshire County Council has received is the highest amount paid out by the Department for Education (DfE) so far as part of the £100m Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.

Last year, Signs of Safety initiative, backed by Professor Eileen Munro, was awarded £4.8m under the scheme, to run in 10 authorities.

Hertfordshire’s bid document states that the aim is to create "a more integrated and effective child protection system that can be adopted by other authorities or indeed the country as a whole".

Alongside motivational interviewing, teams will also adopt a new “electronic workbook” to record assessments in order to help reduce time spent on administration.

Once tested, the authority has said it will seek permission from the DfE to use it instead of the current requirements of case notes, chronologies and reports, which it said can be “repetitive and time-consuming”.

“We are planning a completely new way of working for social workers, which represents a great hope for the future,” Richard Roberts, lead member for children’s services at the council, said.

“Our pioneering new approach will cut down on red tape and free up our social workers to spend less time at a desk and more time with families.

“We will also be working closely with our partners to ensure vulnerable families get all the help they need, when they need it.”

The new system will launch in stages across the county, starting with south east Hertfordshire in April, followed by north Hertfordshire in June, and west Hertfordshire in October.

Writing in CYP Now this week, children’s minister Edward Timpson said the innovation programme has had 285 expressions of interest, with 19 receiving funding so far.

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