Family Safeguarding

Changing child protection: Hertfordshire’s Family Safeguarding model

Published: 01/12/2020

Author: Sue Williams

In 2015, Hertfordshire’s Children’s Services were awarded an Innovation Grant from the Department for Education (DfE), with a view to developing a new approach to keeping more children safely in their families.

Our approach aimed to work with statutory partners to create multi-disciplinary teams of probation officers, recovery workers, mental health practitioners, children’s social workers, children’s practitioners and domestic abuse practitioners. We trained our teams in Motivational Interviewing (MI) to support our strengths-based approach to working with families and creating lasting change for children. With the support of LiquidLogic, we re-developed our recording system, to guide purposeful social work practice and facilitate better information sharing and decision making with the adult specialists in the 21 safeguarding teams. We call this our workbook.

Our approach and values are based firmly on those of the Children Act 1989 – we aim to work in partnership with families – not just professionals. We embrace the spirit of section 17 – providing support to any family member, if it will make a difference to the child’s welfare, making it easy for parents to get the help and support they have a right to, by taking services to them. We also recognise the need to be clear about the different approaches needed if a child has experienced significant harm, as opposed to significant impairment, to their health or development.

We only had 18 months to get from the ‘drawing board’ to fully functioning teams that had shown demonstrable outcomes in what our DfE appointed evaluator later revealed they thought was ‘Mission Impossible’. In Hertfordshire we are supported by our members and senior leaders to try new things and our achievements are not just down to Children’s Services, but also Public Health, Adults’ Services, Human Resources, Legal, Learning & Development, Finance, Business Intelligence, Data Protection, Property Services, Public Protection and IT who all enthusiastically lent their expertise and support to that of our Clinical Commissioning Group, Probation, Police and Crime Commissioner, Constabulary, Mental Health Trust and Change Grow Live Recovery Service, who all threw in everything they had to achieve our mission – never let it be said that Hertfordshire doesn’t rise to a challenge! We were delighted to prove the scepticism of our evaluators was misplaced.

Evidence gathering for the evaluation by University of Bedfordshire concluded in June 2016 and in 2017, the DfE published the first evaluation of Family Safeguarding. The evaluation showed that we had reduced the numbers of children under 12 that we were being placed on child protection plans and taken into care as a result of abuse and neglect by their parents substantially, we had also reduced repeat domestic abuse call outs to our Police colleagues by 66%, reduced Accident & Emergency attendance by parents by 53% and improved school attendance by 38%. Our staffing vacancies plummeted to 3% and so did our legal costs for proceedings. Children and parents noticed the difference in our behaviours and an increase in our empathy and said they felt more empowered. The evaluation concluded that all local authorities should consider the benefits of multi-disciplinary working in child protection.

In 2017, the DfE awarded us a further grant to see if the evidence base for Family Safeguarding’s effectiveness could be expanded. We worked alongside Bracknell Forest, Luton, Peterborough and West Berkshire, authorities with very different demographics, to see if they achieved similar impacts in their areas and with their partnerships.

In November 2020, the DfE published an evaluation which showed that all of the four adopter authorities were able to replicate the model with a high degree of fidelity across the elements of workbook, adopting MI and delivering their safeguarding services through multi-disciplinary teams.

The authorities achieved reductions in the numbers of children under 12 being taken into care for abuse and neglect by their families, year on year of up to 30%, reaching statistical significance and concluded that ‘the Family Safeguarding model is effective at preventing children from becoming looked after (where that is safe and appropriate)’.  

The report found a high-level of energy and enthusiasm for the Family Safeguarding model, and that it provides timely and high-quality specialist support for families. The model was endorsed strongly by Family Safeguarding staff across all five authorities who told researchers they would not want to work in any other way, it’s the best model for delivering children’s social care and should not be redesigned or replaced.

It also found that families are positive about the new approach. Families say they have been ‘worked with and not done to’ and that it is more participatory, supportive and empowering (than previous experiences of social services), they don’t have to retell their story as all workers are well informed of their circumstances and that their lives and those of their children had really improved as a result of Family Safeguarding.

The cost benefit analysis undertaken by the researchers showed the cost avoidance benefits for all five participating authorities, particularly in Hertfordshire where benefits have continued to be accrued over the five years it has been in operation, are substantial and far outweigh the cost of setting up and maintaining the multi-disciplinary teams. This suggests that even in the absence of a grant to support initial set up of the model, it may be worth authorities funding their own adoption of Family Safeguarding, if they share our commitment to working with families in this way.

We are proud to be supporting six more authorities to adopt Family Safeguarding in their areas, as part of the DfE’s Strengthening families, protecting children programme (SFPC) the outcomes of which will be evaluated by the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care.

Contact

If you are considering adopting the model in your authority or would like to know more, please feel free to contact us. We will be hosting our second SFPC conference, virtually, on 2 February to share more about how the model works, research findings and the outcomes for children and their families. If you would like to register interest please contact FSProjectTeam@hertfordshire.gov.uk

Related resources

Hertfordshire’s Family Safeguarding model

Strengthening families, protecting children programme

Family Safeguarding Wave 2 evaluation

Hertfordshire Family Safeguarding evaluation

Sue Williams

Sue Williams is the Programme Director at Strengthening Families/Family Safeguarding.