The government has launched a project which aims to keep children out of the care system. The £84 million initiative will target councils with the highest numbers of children in care across the country, but will not include bids from failing councils.

The project comes at a time when the child protection sector is seeing unprecedented levels of children in care.

Up to twenty councils will receive a share of the £84m set aside for the “Strengthening Families, Protecting Children” project over a period of five years. The project offers three programmes designed to improve the safety and stability of vulnerable children and to reduce the need for families to access services. Selected councils will implement one of the three featured programmes.

Three ‘early adopters’ have already been chosen to test the project and will begin implementing the programmes in the Spring. The selected councils are Darlington, Cambridgeshire and Middlesbrough.

Only councils with an Ofsted rating of ‘requires improvement to be good’ can make bids for the funding and take part in the project, making the project’s aims questionable. The current ratings offered by Ofsted are Oustanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate.

The What Works Centre for children’s social care will evaluate the success of the project sometime after 2024, but as the project will not be allowing councils with an inadequate rating to join the programme, arguably councils in most need of the support, it is unclear what use the evaluation will be in assessing the viability of the programmes in the project.

The Department for Education’s press release offers more detail on the programmes being offered:

  • Leeds Family Valued: working with the whole family unit and any support network to encourage long term changes at home that keep children safe, working with families rather than imposing measures on them. Independent evaluation of the project’s impact on the target population shows that between 2011 and 2017, Leeds reduced the number of children on children’s services Protection Plans by nearly 50% (974 in 2011 down to 515 in 2017).
  • Hertfordshire Family Safeguarding: creates teams consisting of mental health practitioners, domestic abuse workers, probation officers and children’s social workers to strengthen the bond between couples, support fathers and male partners to prevent violent behaviour. Evaluation shows this resulted in a 39% reduction in the number of days children spent in care, for cases allocated to the safeguarding team, a 53% drop in in hospital admissions for adults in that family, and a 66% reduction in contact with the police.
  • North Yorkshire No Wrong Door: creates ‘hubs’ where young people at risk of going into care get targeted support to cope with the multiple issues they face, including lack of accommodation or contact with the police. Independent evaluation showed the programme saw a 38% fall in arrests of individuals involved during the first 18 months of the programme and a 57% reduction in A&E visits.

The launch of the project coincides with the Children Act 1989’s thirtieth anniversary.

The press release can be read here.

The criteria for entry onto the project can be found here.

Ofsted’s Local Authority Children’s Social Care reports can be accessed here. 

Many thanks to Michele Simmons for alerting us to this project.