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Government announces regional recovery fund to support vulnerable children

A government funded programme aiming to level up outcomes for vulnerable children has been announced by children’s minister Vicky Ford.

The programme will support Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) abuse, care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, adolescents and preventing them from being caught up gangs and aims to reduce the pressure on the system by reducing court backlogs or improving technology.

Speaking at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) annual conference, Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford said: “The impact of Covid on our services, young people and workforce has been multi-faceted, adding immediate pressures on top of all the longer-term systemic issues and challenges that we face. But it has also highlighted your resilience, driven innovation and formed better, more powerful partnerships locally, despite the challenging circumstances – something in which we can all take pride.

“I am keen that we work together to support you and your colleagues in the months ahead as we recover and build back better. Sometimes the role of central government is to lead, and sometimes our role is to facilitate and empower others to lead.

“And that is why I am pleased to announce the department will support a regional approach to Covid-19 recovery, for children’s social care, with up to £24m, by bringing together funding previously allocated to three proven programmes: Partners in Practice, the Innovation Programme and Regional Improvement and Innovation Alliances,” she added.

The programme will work through England’s network of nine Regional Improvement and Innovation Alliances (RIIAs) and will also enable funding to accelerate the roll-out of more family hubs to provide early help, build on existing projects with a proven record of success and offer investment in recruiting, developing and retaining social work staff.

The Children’s Social Care Covid-19 Regional Recovery and Building Back Better Fund will be distributed among the nine regions based on plans drawn up by each RIIA to tackle local priorities. Each region will be allocated funds worth between £2 and £3 million, including a flat rate of £50,000 for each region to help local authorities play their part in accommodating unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

The move comes after Kent Council threatened the government with legal action as their services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were reaching breaking point for the second time in a year.

The government also announced changes to the National Transfer Scheme last month, with a voluntary regional rota to ensure these children have the support they need by being more fairly distributed around the country.

Vicky Ford told the conference: “We have a duty, as a nation, to provide these children with the care and support they need. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children can be some of the most vulnerable in our care, having often faced dreadful exploitation from traffickers, and appalling conditions both at home and on their journey to the UK.

“Sometimes local authorities say that these young people will not want to live in rural areas, or outside the big cities as reasons why some areas feel that they cannot step forward and play their part. I know that meeting these young people’s needs can be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding and there are many examples of local authorities doing excellent work in rising to this challenge.”

The Minister thanked the children’s social care sector for their determination and commitment over the pandemic and urged them to complete a review of their safeguarding arrangements with schools, part of the government’s response to Ofsted’s review of sexual abuse and harassment published last month.

New data published by the NSPCC shows that the Report Abuse in Education helpline, launched on April 1 and extended until October as part of the response to the Ofsted Review, received 513 calls up to June 30, of which 97 were referred to external agencies such as the police and local authorities.

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