The government has announced funding of £84 million to help benefit children in and on the edge of care.
The funding, which marks the 30th anniversary of the Children Act by reaffirming its core principle that, where possible, children are best brought up with their parents, will help up to 20 councils to support families to stay together wherever appropriate, so that fewer children need to be taken into care.
Three ‘early adopters’ - Darlington, Cambridgeshire and Middlesbrough - have been unveiled to deliver one of three landmark projects originally run through the Department for Education’s Innovation Programme.
The Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme will roll out the three successful projects to other eligible councils, where there are persistently high numbers of children being taken into care.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: "With the number of children in care rising, many of these children face a far starker version of reality, one where their parents are in the grips of their own nightmare, through mental health problems, the trauma of domestic violence or an addiction.
"We must assist those parents facing difficulties and work with them to strengthen their family relationships so they can properly support their children. In the year that sees the 30th anniversary of the Children’s Act, we must stay true to its heart – that where possible and safe, children are best brought up, loved and supported by their parents.
"As a government, we want to strengthen families so that, wherever possible, they stay together and provide their children with a safe and stable home life. As Education Secretary, it’s my job to make sure what works to keep families together and change lives, is available to more children and families in need," he added.
The projects were originally developed by Leeds, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire councils which are all rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. They aim to build resilience among more vulnerable families and improve how councils design and run services. They also support social workers to confidently identify where families can stay together in the home safely, without putting children or partners at risk.
The three projects being introduced in 20 new areas are:
Leeds Family Valued which works 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.
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.
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.
The new programme aims to avoid taking children into care when they can be kept safely with their family, while the department continues to raise the bar in helping young people in by recruiting the next generation of talented social workers and providing a spectrum of support to care leavers.
The first three local authorities to benefit from this programme - Darlington, Cambridgeshire and Middlesbrough – have started discussions and are due to start work soon.
Eligible councils must meet a core criteria of being rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted and having either high or rising rates of children in care over the last three years.
Cllr Simon Bywater, Chairman of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Children and Young People’s Committee said: "This is incredibly exciting news that will make a real difference to the lives of our most vulnerable children and mean that – when it is in their best interests – more children can stay safely at home. We know that this approach will work as it has been successfully rolled out in neighbouring Peterborough and will put children’s services in Cambridgeshire at the forefront of innovation and best practice."