We spoke to Angela Clarke, Deputy Programme Director at the Centre for Family Safeguarding Practice, about the Family Safeguarding model, first developed in Hertfordshire.
History of Family Safeguarding
In 2015, Sue Williams (then Assistant Director of Hertfordshire Children’s Services), was concerned about the dramatic rise in children coming in to care and the increasingly adversarial relationship between families and children’s services that often inhibited parental engagement. She realised that children’s social workers, acting alone, lacked the expertise and resources to meaningfully address issues around parental mental health, domestic abuse, and parental substance misuse. Instead, she sought to bring all professionals working with a family, including adult specialists, together in one team. She also believed that professionals should engage with families using a shared approach of Motivational Interviewing, an evidence-based practice methodology proven to support change. On behalf of the Hertfordshire County Council, she successfully secured initial funding to design and implement the Family Safeguarding model through the DfE’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.
Since 2015, the Family Safeguarding model has expanded across England. In 2017, the DfE funded an expansion of Family Safeguarding in four additional local authorities: West Berkshire, Bracknell Forest, Luton, and Peterborough. The successful outcomes of Family Safeguarding have led to its continued expansion across England, through a combination of DfE funding and local authority self-funding, with implementation and practice support from Hertfordshire’s Centre for Family Safeguarding Practice. There are now (as of December 2021) 16 local authorities using the model and many more expressing an interest in adopting the approach.
What is Family Safeguarding?
Family Safeguarding is a whole-systems and whole-family reform, bringing together all of the professionals working with the family into one-multi-disciplinary team. The professionals involved include domestic abuse specialists, substance misuse workers, mental health practitioners, and psychologists, all working together to address compounding issues of domestic violence and abuse (DVA), parental substance use, and parental mental health. Social workers and adult specialists work with families together, so that specialist help to adults can be promptly assessed and provided. The DVA approach is designed both to support adult and child victim-survivors and to offer interventions to support perpetrators of DVA in changing their behaviour.
Through the Family Safeguarding model, the focus of child protection has shifted from monitoring compliance to engaging with families in a strengths-based way and producing meaningful change through Motivational Interviewing, a client-centred therapeutic style designed to harness motivation and enhance readiness for change. There is monthly group case supervision which includes all the professionals working with the family to review progress and next steps. Additionally, each team member has monthly clinical supervision with a team leader from their own professional background. This approach facilitates shared and informed decision-making about whether children are being harmed, and about what help and support to provide to the family.
The model also utilises a shared ‘electronic workbook’ to provide a succinct record of the case, and allow for easier information sharing between agencies, thus reducing the amount of time spent recording and entering information—time which can be instead spent on direct work with families.
Evidence on Family Safeguarding
The benefits of Family Safeguarding have been evidenced by independent evaluations. In each authority where the model has been implemented, there have been reductions in the number of children entering care and children on Child Protection Plans, police call-outs, and unplanned mental health contacts. Evaluations commissioned by the Department for Education as part of the Innovation programmes in 2017 and 2020 found that Family Safeguarding led to a reduction of up to 50% of children needing a Child Protection Plan, a reduction of up to 30% fewer children coming into care, and a reduction of up to 66% in repeat police call-outs to domestic abuse incidents. Recent early evidence from the latest DfE Strengthening Families programme, which included setting up a dedicated team to support other local authorities, has shown an even bigger reduction of children coming into care of up to 50%.
The model has also had a positive impact on staff. Staff interviewed are overwhelmingly positive about the model, leading to lower social worker turnover. The data also suggests that the financial case is strong: due to reductions in looked after children and Child Protection Plans, the costs avoided exceed delivery costs within between 8 months and two years, and cumulative savings to each local authority within two years of the break-even point are estimated to be at least £2 million and up to £170m within 5 years in a large local authority.
Finally, there is important qualitative evidence on the positive experiences of parents, who feel they ‘have been worked with and not done to’ and that their chances of making lasting change has improved as a direct result of Family Safeguarding. Feedback from parents include these testimonials:
- “Rosie is really good, not judgemental, and she really wants me and X to succeed. She talks about the strengths. She is in a good position as a social worker to tell other people these strengths too…She brings everyone together and tells them the positives instead of just focusing on negatives. Rosie has made me feel a lot less worried about social services. I do still worry but I know that she is able to bring people helping together. She asks them things like what are you doing and what can you do to help, like with mental health services. She is really nice and she acts like she really does actually care.”
- “When I think back to where I was when I first met you, had no confidence, felt alone and like no-one cared about me. Now I feel confident, I don’t feel alone and I feel very loved and safe. I will never forget what you’ve done for me.”
Hertfordshire County Council’s Centre for Family Safeguarding Practice has continued to expand on and support other local authorities in implementing the Family Safeguarding model, and are currently working with 16 different local authorities on both a strategic and practice level. They are an approved Sector Led Improvement Partner and are currently working with Regional Improvement and Innovation Alliances to support more local authorities to adopt the model.
For more information about this project, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
This case-study was compiled by Carolyn Lipp in 2021