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Early Help: Care Review’s Josh MacAlister is executive chair of new body to help with early interventions for children and families

Following the Care Review published in May of this year, it’s lead, Josh MacAlister, has been appointed as executive chair of a new body currently being referred to as What Works for Early Intervention and Children’s Social Care, and will commence this role this month. The new body merges the Department for Education funded What Works for Children’s Social Care, whose role is to undertake research and share findings of others’ in relation to improving outcomes for children involved with Social Care service, and the government funded Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) which was set up in 2013 to undertake a similar role in relation to early intervention in the lives of children who are at risk of poor outcomes. Due to the overlaps in these two services, the Care Review recommended they merge in order to be “better placed to support care review reforms”.

The discussion around early help for children and families is not a new one, and it is one that social workers have been well aware of as a result of their day-to-day work with families and often their interventions only being as a result of responding to crisis situations. Social workers have the skills to undertake meaningful work with families to bring about change and positive outcomes that can be sustained, however, they do not have the time to be able to undertake such work and their focus is, as a result, often in immediate safeguarding due to the concerns for the child having progressed beyond that of the remit of early help. In order to change this, to change the system, a huge overhaul of Children’s Social Care would be required and a significant amount of money made available to ensure it would be effective and done properly. It is difficult to know where to start.

It was not too long ago, and is likely to still be the case in some local authorities, that support staff were present within social work teams – senior support workers and family support workers. As a newly qualified social worker I remember these workers in my child protection team and they had a wealth of knowledge and experience of being able to provide hand-on, practical parenting support to families, in a sensitive and compassionate way, and because they did not come with a social work title they were often more successful than the social workers in the team at engaging families and building relationships to help them feel more open and willing to work with professionals. I remember them helping with routines and boundaries in the home, meal plans, budgeting, diary management and supporting families to attend appointments, all things that, sadly, many social workers no longer have time to do due to the other competing pressures around safeguarding, case recording, paperwork, panel attendance, statutory visits, meetings, and Court attendance.

But the help with practical skills was so useful for some families that the support from a family support worker prevented concerns from escalating, from problems and worries overwhelming the parents so that situations in the home deteriorated, and by having someone being present to really understand the family functioning in the context of their lives and being able to report any concerns to the social worker at a much earlier stage so that these can be addressed before reaching crisis point.

At WillisPalmer, we want to be able to support local authorities, children and families, by being able to provide early help through the provision of family support workers and, as such, we have continued to develop our Family Support Service so that it is not only included as part of our Multidisciplinary Family Assessments but also as a standalone service that can be commissioned by local authorities. The service is led by WillisPalmer’s Head of Services, Dave Wareham, alongside Family Support Manager, Fay Roffe.

Dave Wareham, Head of Services

Dave Wareham, Head of Services

Fay Roffe, Family Support Manager 

Dave said, “Over the last 18 months we have developed our Family Support Service to not only offer targeted parenting programmes and support, and a safeguarding presence in family home, to providing Early Help to families where children are at risk due to deficits in their parents’ knowledge and practical skills. We are commissioned by local authorities who value the benefits of early intervention and have a desire to prevent the need for higher level child protection planning or care proceedings.”

“The service has successfully supported young, first-time parents, to learn and put into practice essential basic care skills, when they haven’t had the natural support of family or positive friendship networks to help. Our family support workers have also assisted parents with mental health difficulties or those moving away from substance misuse to develop their understanding of their children’s needs and build confidence in their abilities to put new parenting skills into practice.”

“We have been able to do this by growing our network of experienced family support workers in London and surrounding areas; all our FSWs have a minimum level 3 Health and Social Care qualification and experience of working directly with parents to develop their parenting abilities.”

“Building on the positive outcomes the service has achieved through delivering Early Help, this month we have launched our Pre-birth Family Support Service; offering the opportunity for expectant parents to build a trusting relationship with a family support worker and learn basic care skills in preparation for baby arriving. The same worker then supports the parents more intensively in the first few weeks after baby is born, before scaling down the level of support at the pace the parent and the Local Authority feels is appropriate.”

We hope that through this service we can be part of the change in moving towards early help, so that less children and families require significant and long term local authority intervention as a result of crisis and serious safeguarding concerns, and we hope that the local authorities we work with who share our vision will benefit significantly from our service both in the short and long term.

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