About 400,000 children are currently subject to a Child in Need (CIN) assessment plan in England. Depending on size, councils currently hold between 1,000 and 10,000 cases. This is an increase over the past decade, but the problem isn’t really the quantity, but the lack of timely and appropriate action once the assessment is made. In a world increasingly defined by speed and immediacy, our pace of action on progressing CIN plans looks like a relic from yesteryear. As the system dithers and tinkers with cases, the missed opportunities to prevent crisis and cost are legion. But the real tragedy is that for many, the neglect, abuse and hardship continues, beyond the point we knew about it and could have done more to help.
For the lay people reading, CIN status means that without appropriate services from the council and others, the child is unlikely to achieve a reasonable standard of health and development. Whilst some assessments concluding CIN have disability of either the parent or the child as a sole reason, most don’t. CINs are more commonly related to abuse and neglect, and at the core of the problem lies the family. It has been striking to us at Skylakes that so few councils deploy a structured, intensive family intervention service immediately following the first CIN meeting. And even more striking that relatively few models or solutions have focused on this intersection between CIN and the family.
For many children, they have already waited weeks (between the referral and assessment), and possibly months or years more before the issues were spotted. Yet after the assessment, and despite the importance of the family dynamics, the child’s chance of an intensive family intervention is low. More likely there will be periodic visits and commissioning of some non home-based services. We are diagnosing the problem, but treating it with the social care equivalent of paracetamol, a medicine designed to address symptoms and not causes.
So we decided to roll up our sleeves and develop a solution. We can now offer a 12-week home-based intervention to any council’s cohorts of CIN. As with all Skylakes work, our focus on technology and business support means that the practitioners we deploy focus their work on the child and family and don’t spend their time on admin. But more importantly, the service is outcome and not process focused. Whilst we will tailor programmes and individual context, our family intervention is focused on achieving reduction in need and progressing safely to Team Around The Child services, providing clear before and after evidence. So the public purse and the social work caseload benefit. But critically, we end the waiting.
Director of Children’s Services, Skylakes