It is part of a new “family safeguarding” model introduced by Lancashire County Council earlier this year, which aims to keep children and their parents together by intervening early to try to stop family problems spiralling out of control.
Adult and children’s social care workers are operating in newly-formed teams, which include specialists in areas such as domestic abuse and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and are designed to provide a one-stop-shop of services to prevent families reaching crisis point.
A recent meeting of the authority’s education and children’s services scrutiny committee heard that the changes have led to a shift in how domestic abuse is tackled – although children will still be removed from situations where it is deemed in their best interests.
“What we have done in the past is say: ‘You stop being beaten up by your partner or we’re going to remove your children’ – or we say that the partner has to leave until we decide that they can come back in,” explained Sharon Hubber, Lancashire County Council’s director of children’s social care.
“When people have been together [for] years, have got children together [and then] still see each other, we say that they’re not working with us. We’ve forgotten that people have got relationships.
“What we want to do is say: ‘Do you want to learn to live together safely and how can we help you?’
“If the answer is [they] are not prepared to try and make it safe…we would remove [the] children, it’s a given – because my statutory duty is to safeguard children in Lancashire. It’s a balance – but the balance needs to be a bit different than we’ve done it in the past,” Ms. Hubber said.
The meeting heard that domestic abuse perpetrators are being given access to the kind of remedial courses that are usually only available once they enter the criminal justice system – and that police call-outs to those who engage with them fall.
Committee member Cllr Sobia Malik said it was recognised that some domestic abusers are “very good at working the system [by] going on the courses and cosmetically appealing to tick all the boxes”. She sought reassurance that monitoring was in place to “evaluate that is not something that happens in Lancashire”.
Sharon Hubber acknowledged that there would be “gameplayers”, but added: “My staff are incredibly skilled at understanding when people are not working with us in the way that they should be.”
She told members that the family safeguarding approach more generally was one which sought to work with families to resolve their problems and was underpinned by a sense of “kindness”. Staff are being trained in “motivational interviewing” techniques to move away from the more “transactional” way they may have operated previously.
“We are the people who uphold social justice for families and we have kind of lost that in a way.
“If this was your family receiving a social care intervention, how would you want them to be treated and spoken to?
“We need to stop writing about people as if they are subjects – and remember that they are…human beings, who just sometimes have got it really wrong.
“[However], where we can’t keep children safe, we are continuing to remove [them] and continuing to go into the courts,” Ms Hubber said.
The committee also heard that a recruitment drive was under way to help Lancashire County Council achieve a target of social workers having a maximum of 15 cases for which they are responsible.