The introduction of the “Edge of Care Service” by Cheshire West and Chester Council has led to a significant reduction in the number of children between the ages of nine and 15 years going in to care. APSE Direct spoke to Emma Taylor, the Council’s Director of Children’s Services, about this remarkable APSE Service Award-winning initiative.
Like many councils, Cheshire West and Chester Council has seen a rise in children entering care in recent years. Between 2013 and 2015 we saw a 52 per cent increase in the number of looked after children in our area, compared to just an eight per cent increase in England.
With more demand being placed on our children’s services than ever before, we launched a new service in 2015 to support families at significant risk of breakdown. The introduction of the Edge of Care service and commitment by our staff to adjust to a new way of working has helped three quarters of the children who were supported by the service to remain with their families and avoid entering the care system. Its success has also contributed to a significant financial saving for the Council.
The increase in the number of children entering care was the real driver for this new way of working. Whilst our services, at the time, were working well to offer support to children who were at risk of entering care, that level of support didn’t extended to their families. This was the area we needed to concentrate on; providing each family with an intensive, needs-led service that addressed their individual situation.
A large proportion of the children entering care were aged nine to 15. We find that there can be some challenges finding foster placements for this group of children. Often, if they come in to care during this age range, they remain in care throughout their teenage years. We needed to find a solution to help stop these young people entering care in the first place.
In June 2015 our Edge of Care team was launched to support families at significant risk of breakdown where other interventions did not appear to be making an impact.
The team supports families at the edge of care – those who have been flagged by our social workers or partner agencies as being at risk of having their children taken in to care. We focused on children between nine and 15 years of age, helping them to remain with their families, wherever possible and safe to do so, and improve their lives.
Sometimes, social workers can understandably focus on removing risk altogether rather than managing it as proportionately as possible, particularly given the high profile nature of children’s safeguarding. The 12 members of our Edge of Care team work closely with our front line practitioners to strengthen their trust and confidence in the team. A strong culture and practice of using evidence-based interventions, building on family strengths; and doing whatever it takes to keep a child with its family has resulted in consistently high level of requests for the services of our Edge of Care Team.
The team was originally tasked to work with 85 children per year and prevent at least 40 children each year from entering the care system. Another target was to reduce the proportion of children entering the care system from the nine to 15 cohort and to achieve a gross savings target of £972k over three years.
The focus for the team is to make families more resilient in the long term so that the families can better manage the difficulties they are experiencing. The child or young person is at the heart of the support offered. We listen to both their views and their families and help them build on their strengths. This could involve applying a solution focused approach, allowing families to decide their own pathways and solutions to reach their goals, for example, to help increase their confidence and self-esteem. Or we may arrange practical support such as transport, transition plans and reintroduction meetings to help improve school attendance and attainment.
Every child gets a different service from the team. It’s about being creative and adapting our service so that it works best for the child and family so that everyone gets the best outcome. If a member of the team is struggling to overcome a certain issue we often hold case busting sessions where three members of the team come together to work through the case and use their combined knowledge to find a solution.
It was important, when setting up the service, that the team was able to provide a prompt, intensive and persistent approach to its support. This meant being available for families when they needed us. Flexible working was introduced so that the team can speak and meet with a family at a time that works for them. A family intervention worker will work with a family for up to six months and speak with them around three times a week.
When we reduce our visits to a family we’ll outline what we think is suitable for the child going forward and connect them with other services that will be able to provide ongoing support.
We’ve invested heavily in training both for our team members and for the families we work with so that families have a wide variety of opportunities to learn new skills or approaches to parenting such as on our parent programmes.
This investment has meant that, in less than three years, there has been a significant reduction in the number of children between the ages of nine and 15 years going in to care. Of the 271 families who have completed the intervention, 194 children have successfully avoided entering our care with strategies, skills and resilience embedded within families to support continued success and safety.
The percentage of care joiners in the nine to 15 year age range reduced from 60 per cent to 25 per cent by April 2017 and as a result of the team’s approach, we’ve managed to maintain this level.
This reduction in numbers has contributed to over £3m towards the Council’s cost reduction programme as a result of care costs being avoided over the last three years.
By sticking with our set criteria we have been able to concentrate on the families that needed our help the most. We have learned what approaches work and have shared this learning both within the team and with our partners.
Since April 2018 the Edge of Care team has expanded to work with a younger group of children: newborns to two year olds. Again, the team works closely with the families of the children and provides a range of support to ensure the risk to the child is managed safely and that families get access to any specialist services they might need. Although it’s early days we are already seeing some positive results with the number of children in this age range entering care reducing by 57 per cent compared to figures over the same period in 2017.
The success of the Edge of Care Service has been down to our strategic approach that focused on a specific group of children, a change in our social work culture and the ‘can do’ approach of our dedicated team. We have consistently exceeded the challenging targets set and the foundations are in place to continue to offer this service to more families in the future, helping to give every child in west Cheshire the best start in life.