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22 Family Safeguarding Teams set out to deliver a new model of practice to safeguard families in Hertfordshire.  

In January 2015, Hertfordshire County Council and their partners in health, probation and police were awarded a £4.86m grant from the government’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. The funding has allowed them to press ahead with their plans to revolutionise child protection services in Hertfordshire. 22 innovative Family Safeguarding Teams are currently being established throughout the county, each bringing together professionals from children and adult care services under one roof.

We speak to Sue Williams, Director of Family Safeguarding at Hertfordshire County Council, about a model that is centred on better engagement of families in Hertfordshire and enabling social workers to do the job they joined to do.

Why did you decide to take a multidisciplinary approach to child protection services, and how did you decide which skill sets to draw upon? 

This will be the first time an entire child protection service is delivered on a multidisciplinary basis – our Family Safeguarding Teams comprise of children’s social workers, a substance misuse/mental health worker, a domestic abuse specialist and a business support officer. We know that the main risks to children are from the ‘toxic trio’; domestic abuse, substance misuse and parental mental health. However, our research found the specialisation of adult and children’s care services could lead to some families not being supported as well as they should be. For example, those working with adults with mental health issues or a drug problem may lack a full understanding of the effect this can have on how that person looks after their children. Similarly, child social workers may not be aware of the full extent of how adult mental health conditions can affect children. By looking at the family as a whole, we believe we can reduce the number of child protection referrals and children coming into the care system. This will improve the life chances of our highest risk children and families, while producing savings for the public purse too.

At the start of this work, we asked our children’s services staff which adult specialists they would like input from, and these were the specialisms they identified. Our colleagues in probation, mental health and substance misuse were keen to join us. The core teams will also be supported by police, schools, children’s centres and health visitors to ensure all agencies working with the family are fully involved.

The project aims to increase direct work with families, how will this be achieved?

We will be addressing the amount of time our social workers spend on administrative tasks such as recording data, attending meetings and writing assessments, case notes and reports. We are working closely with our ICS providers to develop an ‘electronic workbook’. This will provide our social workers with a simple, effective way of recording their work so they can avoid repeating admin and spend more time helping vulnerable families. 

We are also reducing the number of caseloads our social workers have, from approximately 16 children to 12. This will be achieved by increasing the number of teams we have across the county, adding additional teams at our main sites. 

Our adult specialists will act as key workers to the parents, working with them to assess their needs and involving them in individual and group work programmes to reduce the risk of harm they pose. This will help free up our social workers to strengthen the bonds between parents and children, improve children’s engagement with learning and address their behaviour and help them form friendships at school.

For the full interview, including an overview of Motivational Interviewing and how success is being measured see our summer edition of Sanctuary Social Work News

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