Children’s services in York are to focus more on keeping children out of the care system by supporting communities to manage troubling behaviour – but an experienced Labour councillor said she feared it was a “rebranding” exercise.
Anne Coyle, the council’s new interim director of children’s services, said she felt the system in York was too interventionist, leading to children ending up in care who shouldn’t be.
It is hoped that a restructure in the department will result in fewer children becoming subject to child protection plans and fewer re-referrals to children’s social care.
The department was issued with a critical Ofsted report in 2019 which said there had been a decline in the quality of services for children in need of help and protection since the last inspection in 2016.
Its finances are also under severe strain due to more children being taken into care during the pandemic.
The council typically budgets for between 190 – 210 children and young people being in its care.
Highest it’s been
Ms Coyle told a meeting of the children, education and communities policy and scrutiny committee: “Our current children in care figures are standing at 283 – I think that’s the highest it’s been.
“We had a number of little babies that we had to intervene with just before Christmas.”
Ms Coyle said that it was important to look at whether the right children were coming into the care system – as some children will always need to be taken into care.
But she added: “My view is that we have a highly interventionist court structure [in York] who are at times not helpful to the way children’s social care may want to manage children being together with their families.
“My own view is that we are highly interventionist and sometimes we have children on orders that may not need to be, that could be managed in a different way.”
A qualified social worker for almost 30 years, Ms Coyle said that York was still “behind the curve” when it came to early intervention.
She added: “We have examples in York where children are bounced through children’s social care, when actually what they need is a conversation with somebody that might be a trusted person in the community.”
‘Heard it before’
But Labour councillor Fiona Fitzpatrick said: “I’ve been doing this work for 30 years in schools and authorities and it’s more of the same.”
She said government policy was forcing more people into poverty, which would lead to more families in difficulty.
She added: “I’ve heard it all before so often over many years – it’s just rebranding under a different name. I’m sorry if I’m cynical – and I’m not criticising anybody here who will do the very best they can within York – but we’ll wait and see how this pans out.
“We still need to be pressing the government, we still need to get the money that we need into local authorities to make all this happen.”