Hundreds of millions of pounds are being invested in a new programme to revolutionise support for the most vulnerable children and families across the country, backed by brand-new freedoms for town halls to provide life-changing services for troubled young people, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced last weekend (Sunday 3 April 2016).
The weekend's announcement comes just months after the Prime Minister delivered a keynote speech on transforming life chances for the most vulnerable, in which he described the government's children social care reforms as the 'landmark reforms of the next 5 years'.
The government's Children's Social Care Innovation programme - a radical step-change to the way in which vulnerable families are supported, backed by funding totalling £200 million - will kick-start the most promising proposals for new ways of delivering vital help for troubled children and young people.
The government is now calling on councils and charities to come forward with bids for innovative and creative ideas to improve life chances for young people in their local area, with successful schemes backed by a portion of the £200 million.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:
'Every single child deserves the chance to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. Yet it remains a stark fact that we don't yet have excellent children's social services everywhere. And when our most vulnerable children and families don't receive the support they need, it can literally be a matter of life and death.
Where there is failure, we can no longer sit by and watch. We know children flourish when they are supported by leaders who have been given the freedom to translate their expertise, passion and drive into providing life-changing support. And that's why today we're inviting charities and councils to come forward with their most creative ideas to transform the lives of those most in need: because no ambition can be too great when it comes to transforming children's life chances. We've already seen how local services are ready to innovate and come up with new ideas to tackle entrenched problems.'
The new investment follows the first round of the innovation programme - announced in summer 2014 - which has funded over 50 inspiring and imaginative programmes across the country, backed by £100 million. Schemes funded to date include:
- £4.3 million for Pause, an innovative programme aimed at helping women to break the cycle of repeat pregnancies resulting in high numbers of children being taken into care. Pause is reaching their target of working with 160 women who have had 568 children removed between them across the current 7 Pause Practices in London and the Yorkshire region. There have been no pregnancies to date. Many women are now in safe accommodation, receiving help and support from domestic violence or mental health services, and engaged in training and education as well as volunteering and employment;
- £1 million for Barnardo's and the Local Government Association to back a special outreach scheme for girls and young women at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM), a programme working directly with communities with a high rate of FGM, working with GPs, social workers and teachers to prevent, protect and treat girls and women at risk of such a devastating practice. Special community workers also reach out to men, helping to change attitudes and behaviour in communities that traditionally practice FGM. To date, the programme has helped over 100 children and young people across the pilot sites;
- £4 million for the London triborough (Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) to help them redesign how they deliver frontline children's social care, thus freeing up social workers to spent more time with vulnerable children and families. Since receiving funding, 2 of the 3 councils in the Triborough have been rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted for its services for vulnerable children and families - the only outstanding councils in the country - with the judgement stating the innovation programme as key to their excellent rating.
The government's announcement also coincides with a new call from the Education Secretary to cities across the country, urging them to take the power back from Whitehall through 'devolution deals' so they have the freedom to deliver the kind of game-changing services that are right for children and families at risk in their area.Devolution deals are a specific agreement between central and local government which give regions greater control over decisions that affect their area - from business and employment, to economic opportunities and growth.Ministers now want to see every single devolution deal expanded to include children's services: putting cities back behind the wheel in providing the tailored support that will make a real difference to vulnerable families locally. Regions such as Greater Manchester are already leading the way, looking at how services for vulnerable young people can be better delivered across the region in a way that makes sense for them, free from bureaucracy. Children and Families Minster Edward Timpson, who spent 10 years as a family barrister and whose own family fostered over 90 children, said:
'I know from my time at the Bar and my experience of fostering that when it comes to supporting our most vulnerable young people there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.
That's why we are calling on councils and professionals to continue digging deep, thinking radically and doing whatever it takes to find new and better ways of delivering for our most vulnerable children.'Ashley*, a young mum who has received life-changing support from Pause, said:
'Without Pause, I would not be here now. I've never had anyone on my side - someone who isn't going to hurt me, harm me or let me down. I could have kept on having kids, or I could have ended it all. Or both. But Pause has helped me realise that I do have value; I do have potential.'And, as part of the government's long-term plan to overhaul children's social work and ensure professionals have the knowledge and skills they need to change lives, ministers on Sunday also announced a further expansion of an important collaboration between universities and councils to ensure a steady stream of high-calibre social workers to the frontline.The government's Social Work Teaching Partnerships initiative matches universities with councils to deliver gold-standard training for social workers, raising standards and supporting local authorities in recruiting and retaining the best social workers and giving them greater control over the hiring of frontline professionals.Greater Manchester, north-west Midlands, south-east London and south Yorkshire are all leading the way in trailblazing this exciting initiative, and at the weekend ministers have announced a new funding round to encourage other universities and councils to join forces in extending the reach of excellent social work across the country.The government also announced new measures to improve the life chances of the most vulnerable children who are cared for in secure children's homes.As part of an ongoing drive to ensure theses children get the support they need, secure homes will be able to bid for new funding to make sure staff get the specialist training they need to support the children in their care. A new unit, run by Hampshire County Council, will work with local authorities to ensure children who need this kind of specialist care can access it more quickly, and action will be introduced to strengthen mental health support available for children in secure homes.
*name has been changed to protect identity