TROUBLED families will get help to tackle their problems and avert 'crisis point' as part of a pioneering new approach to social care.

With the number of children in care rapidly rising, Oxfordshire County Council plans to invest £4.8m to help parents overcome issues including mental health, drug and alcohol addiction and domestic abuse.

It wants to roll out the Family Safeguarding Model, which was founded by Hertfordshire County Council in 2015 and has significantly reduced the number of children in need of care.

The approach will see social workers focus on entire families rather than just children, working with police, health practitioners and the probation service so parents can access support within one team.

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Hannah Farncombe, the council's deputy director of children’s services, said: "This preventative approach will meet needs at a much earlier stage, avoiding family breakdown and the need for children to come into care.

"This model will get ahead of that crisis point.

"It believes that parents are capable of change, and with the right support around them, they can be successful as parents."

The number of children in care in the county has almost doubled since 2011, to 780 currently and an estimated 915 by 2023 if nothing changes.

By then, the budget to provide for such children will have also doubled in that time, unless decisive action is taken to work on the root of families' problems.

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Lucy Butler, the council's director of children’s services, said: "This new approach may offer a way of beginning to reverse those trends.

"We want to create a version that applies to our own circumstances in Oxfordshire, rather than entirely replicating Hertfordshire’s model, but the principles would be identical."

A report about the proposal, prepared for the council's cabinet, states: "Doing nothing is not an option for Oxfordshire.

"[This model] represents a strategic approach to managing the ever-increasing service and financial demands facing children services."

Steve Harrod, the council's cabinet member for children and family services, said of the Hertfordshire model: "Children’s exposure to harmful behaviour is drastically reduced and school attendance improved.

"Lives have been improved dramatically and all of the agencies in Hertfordshire have benefited as a result...It really has led to better lives and more efficient services."

He said in the first year, the new model saved Hertfordshire County Council £2.6m.

The number of children on child protection plans reduced by 55 per cent within 30 months, and in the first year there was a 53 per cent drop in hospital admissions for adults in the families, and a 66 per cent reduction in contact with the police for domestic abuse.

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The approach has the approval of the Department for Education and Ofsted, and has also been adopted in Luton, Peterborough, Bracknell Forest and West Berkshire.

Oxfordshire's adaptation will differ slightly, with closer involvement with district councils and more focus on preventing homelessness.

Teresa Heritage, executive member for children, young people and families at Hertfordshire County Council, said: "This enlightened approach has helped so many families in Hertfordshire.

"I’m proud of what the safeguarding teams have achieved and the difference they are continuing to make for children in our county by introducing new practice and managing safeguarding in a more preventative way."

If given the final stamp of approval from the council's cabinet next week, the council will start training staff in the autumn ahead of roll-out next June.

It had approached the Department for Education for a grant, to cover some of the costs of the project, but the DfE said it had to prioritise councils whose social services were rated 'requires improvement' by the watchdog.

Oxfordshire's was rated 'good' overall last year, but 'requires improvement' for children in need of help and protection, largely due to increasing demand and pressures on such services.

According to a council report prepared for cabinet, the key intervention models will be:

 A structured parenting assessment

 Parenting programmes tailored to different age groups of children

 Treatment programme for male perpetrators of domestic abuse (including impact on


 Treatment and recovery programmes for women victims of domestic abuse

(including impact on children)

 Programmes to promote children’s resilience

 Drug and alcohol recovery programme

 ‘Foundations of Change’ programme

 Mental health interventions