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From November 2018 the way Cambridgeshire County Council organises its services for safeguarding and supporting vulnerable children is set to change, with improvements backed by revised council funding, Members agreed today (Tuesday 23 October.)

Against a national background of increasing pressure on Children’s Services departments, with increasing numbers of children being referred for support or needing council care – Cambridgeshire’s changes aim to help more vulnerable children develop and thrive in their own homes or with extended families.  

And to recognise that these changes are focused on making radical improvements to service, and not at delivering an immediate financial saving, Members of General Purposes Committee agreed to invest £3.413m from the council’s smoothing fund into the children’s services budget to allow the change to start with a clean sheet.

Council leader and chair of GPC Cllr Steve Count, backing the proposal from the council’s Children and Young People’s committee, recommended the move in order, to put the service which has been struggling with an unprecedented increase in demand over the past twelve months, on a firm financial footing to give the new operating model the best chance of success. 

“Children grow up quickly, and where problems occur in a vulnerable family we need to work at speed and help them make changes at the time it can do the most good.  The way we plan to work will do this, but it needs to do so, unhampered by the need to make immediate financial savings.”

Cambridgeshire currently has more than 700 children in its care currently, but by 2020/21, the changes aim to reduce this by around 100, more in line with Cambridgeshire’s statistical neighbours.

Changes from this November will see

  • Social work teams based in districts led by non-case holding team managers who can provide more support and challenge; linking in to early help teams who already work in this way and are working well with our partners in schools and health to meet the needs of vulnerable children at the most early stage,
  • Easier referrals into the council’s contact centre, with trained call handlers able to make faster decisions on all clear cut cases, and referring only complicated or unclear issues on to social workers,
  • Lower caseloads for social workers overall, with more resilience built in to larger teams,  
  • Two new dedicated teams focused on adolescents in the  north and south of Cambridgeshire,
  • More Child Practitioners focused on working with children in need and able to undertake more sustained and in depth work.

Changes are evidence based - following a series of reviews over the past twelve months by Oxford Brooks University, OFSTED, and a LGA peer review which showed the council’s model of 32 units spread across the county, each with up to three qualified social workers and one trainee, led by a consultant social worker who also held a case load, led to less urgent issues slipping down the priority list.

In part they concluded that the model that Cambridgeshire County Council has been operating since 2012, with some minor changes in 2017 – often meant small groups of staff  when depleted by absence or vacancies,  prioritised the most urgent child protection cases or court work - leading to other children’s needs not being assessed quickly enough.    Children ‘ looked after’ and therefore  seen as ‘safe’ were receiving only statutory minimum eight week visits from their social worker which could mean them staying in care longer than was necessary. Children living at home but felt to be ‘in need’ were not being prioritised for service which could prevent their situation worsening, leading to some needing to come into care. 

Changes are also aimed at improving recruitment, offering more attractive and specialised roles with lower caseloads, at a time of national shortage of qualified children’s social workers. 

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