Looked after children and Innovate to Save
In our third article focused on the thematic areas of Innovate to Save, Donald Forrester discusses how the programme provides an exciting opportunity for services and individuals in Wales to reduce the need for children to come into care.
Wales has 50 per cent more children in care per head of population than England. Even when higher levels of deprivation in Wales are allowed for, there are considerably higher rates of children in care. These figures provide a powerful challenge for social services in Wales to rethink our approach - a challenge that has been highlighted by Mark Drakeford (Minister for Local Government and Finance).
The research launched recently by Bywaters and others, adds even more weight to this argument. They identified a strong correlation between deprivation and children entering care. This means that reducing the need for children to be in care is not just about individual justice for families – it is also about social justice and creating a fairer society.
At the very least we should feel that families have been given every reasonable chance to stay together. How confident are we that this is always the case?
In this context the Innovate to Save programme provides an exciting opportunity for services and individuals in Wales to reduce the need for children to come into care. Children in care is one of the four priority areas, and the scheme allows organisations to access expertise and resources to develop a proposal.
The application process is quick and straightforward, and those ideas that are successful are provided with an interest-free, unsecured loan. This would allow organisations to invest money now in reducing the need for children to enter care – and pay back the loan against subsequent savings.
There is a developing body of evidence about ways in which we can stop children from needing to come into care. This includes specialist services and whole-system changes. Replicating and adapting some of these approaches would be a good use of the Innovate to Save system.
Equally, our understanding in this area is at an early stage. Innovative projects or new ways of organising services would be very welcome – I am new to Wales but have already been impressed by the exciting ideas and energy in some areas. Perhaps we should develop, evaluate and publicise these?
A sign of a humane and fair society is that it provides all the help it can to avoid children being removed from their families.
The Innovate to Save scheme aims to provide enthusiastic individuals and organisations with the help they need to try to address this challenge. It is a challenge workers face with families every day; but equally, it is a challenge that we as a society need to rise to.
In forthcoming blogs, Donald Forrester will be exploring in greater depth what works to stop children entering care.