Looked-after Children - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the London Borough of Hackney


  The London Borough of Hackney has made good and steady progress not only in improving the lives of looked after children, but successfully intervening to work with families so that fewer children need to be taken into care. To improve the prospects for these children further and even faster, we have recently introduced a radically different model for the delivery of children's social services. This memorandum describes firstly the initiatives we have led to ensure that we listen to children, and secondly the process of changing the way we provide social work services to this group. We believe both of these initiatives are helping us in our aim to put the child at the heart of all that we do.


  2.1  Hackney is one of the most deprived and diverse boroughs in the country with higher than average numbers of children growing up in poverty. Entitlement to free school meals, often used as a proxy indicator for child poverty, shows that Hackney has the fifth highest percentage of primary pupils eligible for free school meals in London and the third highest of secondary school pupils: 41% of primary school pupils and 38% of secondary school pupils in Hackney's maintained schools are eligible.

  2.2  Our strategy to keep children and young people safe is to build capacity within families and communities to care for children and young people safely, by providing practical support and using evidence based, systemic interventions to facilitate positive change in parental and child behaviour. This strategy has been highly successful in reducing the numbers of looked after children, and the numbers of new entrants to the care system. Numbers of looked after children per 10,000 children have continued to fall and is significantly below statistical neighbours. In 2005-06, there were 89.5 LAC per 10,000 children, falling to 84.4 in 2006-07 and falling again significantly to 73.7 in 2007-08. Our statistical neighbours had an average of 93.9 LAC per 10,000 children in 2006-07. The volume of new entrants to care in 2007-08 is very low.

  2.3  Improving services, increasing opportunities for all, and raising the life chances of the most disadvantaged have been top priorities for Hackney's executive Mayor, Jules Pipe CBE, since he was first elected in 2002. In particular, the Mayor is determined that all Hackney's children and young people, irrespective of their background, get the care and support they need not only to get the same life chances as others, but to have a safe and enjoyable childhood. When considering ways of meeting these objectives for the most vulnerable of our children and young people, especially for those in care, it became apparent that fundamental changes to the way we delivered children's social services were needed.


  3.1  In listening to what children in care wanted, we were clear that we needed to ensure that our staff have the skills and capacity to hear and respond to the voice of the child. It was evident that in anything to do with children and young people, it is the quality of their interactions with the people with whom they come into contact that has the greatest effect on their future view of the world. That means that the workforce, in its broadest sense and including carers, needs to feel confident, empowered and able to see the child at the centre of the tasks that they undertake.

  3.2  We believe that families remain the main structural unit in our present state of social development. While children's safety and welfare remains our top priority, we wanted to support families to keep them intact wherever possible. We also wanted to create some kind of continuity for the child; so many looked after children say that they cannot get hold of their social workers—they are off sick, on leave or unavailable. Our model, where units of workers are built around the child, means that everyone in that team not only knows the details of the child's case but is trained, supported and mandated to act on their behalf. This is not just about the team working around the child, but about the child themselves. The child, the family and the professional system will have a story (often each have a different story) and a systemic approach to our intervention allows us to see the story from each part of the system and the child his or herself.

  3.3  For looked after children, this means there is also extensive opportunity for therapeutic work as well as early identification of mental health issues so they can be addressed at a more specialist level through our Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) partners. Clinicians also work alongside foster carers to enable them to learn new behavioural management strategies. This is all complemented by our PCT based Looked After Children (LAC) Health Team. Our Fostering Service recently received a 4 `outstanding' grade for our health work with looked after children.

  3.4  Over recent years we have led four key initiatives to find out what Hackney LAC think about the services they receive:

  3.4.1  The Blueprint Project

  As part of a national project led by VOICE, a voluntary organisation who focus on advocacy and looked after children, we worked with a group of young people who highlighted the main issues for them. A video was produced and we established a way of working alongside looked after children to examine how we worked.

  3.4.2  Innovations project

  This was a similar project on a grander scale. A group of young people in care worked for a year with Youth Skills Network, a local voluntary organisation, and produced a high quality DVD which was launched last year. The group met with the Corporate Parenting Panel to outline their concerns about aspects of their care, and the DVD is being used as a training tool with large numbers of staff.

  3.4.3  Annual Questionnaire Consultation

  The Council has run a survey for looked after children for a number of years. In 2007, 56 responses were received—a response rate of 19% of all looked after children over the age of eight. The key findings included some very positive feedback:

    —  93% felt well supported and safely looked after;

    —  80% feel able to talk to their social worker and tell them how they feel;

    —  75% know they have a Personal Education Plan and 65% a Care Plan;

    —  81% say they have access to a computer;

    —  76% have someone who helps them with their homework; and

    —  83% report having regular check-ups at the doctors and the same percentage at the dentists.

  The survey also highlighted areas where looked after children wanted things to be changed, and we have responded positively in implementing these changes.

  36% said they do not see their social worker enough—The Reclaiming Social Work model that we have introduced has been designed to ensure that social workers can focus on time spent with children and families. We will monitor closely how looked after children feel about how regularly they see a member of the social work unit.

  28% felt that being looked after has made it difficult to do some of the activities that they would like to do and 40% would like to do other activities—Ensuring that looked after children and young people have access to excellent youth and leisure facilities is a key priority for our Corporate Parenting Strategy. We have negotiated free access for all looked after children to Hackney's leisure facilities.

  3.4.4  Regular Members Surgeries

  We have established monthly Members' surgeries, themed according to the Every Child Matters outcomes, which have successfully engaged young people in the Council's care with elected Members and professionals working in Children and Young People's Services and partner agencies. For example, the December 2007 surgery was an open forum structured around the `staying safe' outcome, which was attended by the Youth Offending Team (who talked about gang culture), a domestic violence specialist, a behavioural consultant (who talked about bullying), Sub 19 (Hackney's young people's substance misuse service), the Police, and the head teacher of Hackney's virtual school for looked after children. 10-15 young people attended, some with a carer and some with their social worker. They gained access to and advice from these various services, and reported that they had enjoyed the event.

  3.5  The educational attainment of looked after children has been a key priority in Hackney for a number of years and continues to be so. The Council's Learning and Skills Scrutiny Commission undertook a review in 2005, and found that although outcomes were improving for looked after children, the gap between their attainment and that of their peers was not acceptable.

  3.6  Members continue to have a very clear role in providing leadership, challenge and scrutiny to the educational attainment of looked after children. A Corporate Parenting Board has been established, chaired by the Lead Member for Children and Young People's Services, and reporting to the multi-agency Change for Children Board.

  3.7  In the last 12 months we have adopted the virtual school model and have a dedicated Head Teacher in post. The Head Teacher reports to the Corporate Parenting Board on progress and areas for focus. This has really enhanced our ability to manage educational based casework activity particularly where children are based out of borough. For example, almost all children starting secondary school in September 2008 have now secured places in schools with either "good" or above Ofsted grades. The head teachers of the virtual school have authority and can navigate the system with good results. In 2006, 22.7% of our care leavers had five or more GCSE passes at grades A to C, a massive increase from 5.6% the previous year, and comparing very well with our statistical neighbours, who averaged 8.8%. The Fostering Service's contribution to children and young people enjoying and achieving was rated as good by Ofsted in March 2008.

  3.8  Whilst there is still a long way to go in terms of promoting greater equality of outcomes between looked after children and their peers, this represents a significant improvement and suggests that our strategy is successful.


  4.1  In recent years there has been significant progress and a substantial improvement in meeting and exceeding performance targets for Children's Social Care in Hackney. Despite these improvements, there was a belief at senior management level, that to some extent, social work had lost its way, lacked confidence, expertise, gravitas and is over-bureaucratised. This view of social work is not exclusive to Hackney; the need for change has been recognised nationally not only in the implementation of the Children Act 2004, but specifically in relation to social work roles and tasks.

  4.2  In order to realise the vision for children's social work, Children's Social Care in Hackney has undergone a wholesale restructure which is now in its final stages. We have had enormous success in retaining a large number of our current staff group and in recruiting new people. We believe we now have the workforce we require to deliver social work of the highest calibre.

  4.3  Reclaiming Social Work is about providing high quality services to children and their families. We recognise that the job of a social worker is a challenging one requiring a range of complex skills and a sound knowledge base from which to practice. This includes the skills and knowledge to successfully carry out effective assessments, implement evidence based intervention methodologies with families, understand both the physical and emotional development of children and young people, the ability to make positive relationships with families and other professionals, strong report writing skills and good communication skills. Practitioners also need to be confident, articulate, and professional and have stamina and determination. In short to provide an effective social work service is a difficult job. We have set high expectations to provide good social work practice and also expect staff to perform at a consistently high standard in their work with all children, and to improve their response to looked after children.

  4.4  The change programme overall, however, is at its very initial stages. This is a long term strategy of 3 to five years. We have set out to change a culture of practice and management which has built up over many years in the profession, nationally and locally here in Hackney.


  5.1  In summary, the model will restructure the front line social work service into units, with Consultant Social Workers (CSW) leading each social work unit. There will be 48 social work units across the Children's Social Care division, providing services to all groups of children including those at risk of harm and children who are looked after by the local authority.

  Each unit comprises:

    —  1 x Consultant Social Worker—a practising social worker with management responsibilities, paid at Team Manager level;

    —  1 x Social Worker;

    —  1 x Children's Practitioner—a non social work qualified practitioner;

    —  0.5 Family Therapist or Clinical Practitioner; and

    —  1 x Unit Co-ordinator—with responsibility for co-ordinating diaries, arranging meetings and generally ensuring the unit runs efficiently.

  5.2  The whole unit works with the child and family, and the traditional model of case allocation is not followed. The CSW has ultimate case accountability and formally the cases are allocated to them, but each member of the unit undertakes tasks in relation to the social work intervention. The CSW leads a weekly case discussion meeting where each case is reviewed and plans made for the following week. This meeting is a crucial element in ensuring the effective functioning of the unit and maintaining accountability for the work. For looked after children this is reducing the possibility of drift—unit members will be reviewing the plans for these children on a weekly basis.

  5.3  A programme addressing professional development and culture change is running alongside the changes in structure to ensure that staff acquire the competencies required to manage the service. All social work units attend a 5-day induction course before starting to operate, with a further five follow up days during their first 12 months.

  Two key elements of the new model are:

    —  professional autonomy—decision making at CSW level; and

    —  purposeful intervention using methodologies which have a proven evidence base—specifically systemic family therapy and social learning theory.


  6.1  The objectives of the new model of service delivery are to:

    —  provide a systemic model of intervention with families, which is balanced with risk management of cases;

    —  develop the clinical and therapeutic services on offer to families;

    —  provide a framework for professional development of social workers and managers, with a structured career path leading to qualification for unqualified children's practitioners;

    —  devolve authority to ensure timely response and efficient service delivery on the front line;

    —  ensure a balance between assessment and provision of services by increasing the amount of time spent on direct intervention;

    —  expand targeted family support services in order to shift the emphasis in favour of early intervention for families;

    —  continue to reduce the numbers of children coming into care by enabling them to remain safely with their families; and

    —  ensure that the children's social care workforce is competent, confident, fit for purpose and in a strong position to respond to the demands of the Children's Trust developments.


  7.1  Implementation began in January 2008 and there are currently 15 social work units up and running in the following areas: Children in Need, Looked After Children, Rapid Response, Adoption, Homerton Hospital service. There is a plan for gradual implementation during 2008 and into 2009, with groups of social work units being implemented as new staff are appointed.

  7.2  The Consultant Social Worker post is crucial to success and there is a rigorous selection process to ensure that staff of a high calibre are appointed. We anticipate that all 48 posts will be filled with permanent employees by March 2009.

  7.3  The first group of units have now been operating for three months. Early findings indicate that there have been significant changes in the way the services have been received, by families and viewed by other agencies. The early findings are outlined in the following paragraphs.

  7.4  Consultant Social Workers report that because there is a more intensive intervention, they are seeing change happen in families at a faster rate. There is less likelihood of drift.

  7.5  The Unit Co-ordinator is described as invaluable and other members of the social work unit are able to spend more time working with families and less time on administrative functions. For looked after children this translates to more time spent with children, and less time in the office.

  7.6  Children and families have quickly understood the concept of the social work unit and when making contact will ask to speak to other members of the unit if the person they have telephoned is unavailable. Other professionals in the Homerton Hospital service have reported an improved response from the social work service.

  7.7  Members of the unit report that they are able to use the clinicians within their units to see families through a "clinical lens". Unit members are still learning how to mix the disciplines and work together effectively, but the initial feedback is positive. For children waiting to be adopted, this means they can access therapeutic help at an early stage and do not have to wait until they are in a settled placement.

  7.8  The units are developing a culture of shared ownership and positive working relationships. The Consultant Social Workers report that the units deal very effectively with emergencies, with all members working together to assist families in crisis.


  8.1  An independent evaluation has been commissioned and will be undertaken by Eileen Munro, Professor of Social Work at the London School of Economics working with Human Reliability, a consultancy firm specialising in impact evaluation.

  8.2  The evaluation will consider how the model is working across Children's Social Care and will look at whether practice is improving and the impact on children and families. The evaluation will give particular consideration to outcomes for looked after children. A range of measures and processes will be used to establish success in these areas. The evaluation will be carried out over a two year period with published reports produced on an annual basis.

May 2008

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