More families needing help from social services as Swindon Council sees spike in cases

Request for help has increased since lockdown rules have relaxed

Requests for help from families to Swindon Borough Council social services have been increasing since lockdown rules started being relaxed last year.

The strains imposed by the pandemic on families have also seen more complex cases being seen by council’s children’s services department.

The cabinet member in charge, Cllr Mary Martin presented an update to the council’s scrutiny committee. She said: “Between April and August 2021 there have been 2388 referrals to the Early Help Hub which is an increase from 1895 for the same period in the previous year.”

Most of the cases are referrals to the safeguarding hub – the first point of contact for anyone with concerns over child safety – which do not need a direct intervention but would benefit from early help.

More than 98 per cent of cases were screened within two days of referral in August 2021.

Cllr Martin added: “The impact of Covid-19 is evident in the increasing complexity of cases, this in turn has resulted in an increase in the number of cases being assessed as requiring support as Children in Need.

“There has also been an increase in the number of children on child protection plans from 160 in August 2020 to 209 in August 2021.”

This increase means there is still a need to recruit more social workers to Swindon, although this is a problem being experienced by local authorities across the country.

One new idea put in place is helping. The council has started a social workers in schools pilot programme – where social workers are embedded into eight schools in order to provide early help and reduce the need for more extensive, and expensive interventions later.

Cllr Martin said: “The project has attracted new permanent social workers to Swindon to be part of the pilot. Schools are reporting that the creative methods of engagement with families and presence in  school is improving the attendance of children who have previously been persistently absent.”

A new programme called family safeguarding will go live in the spring - designed to provide all around support to families. Cllr Martin said: “It will pull all areas where family needs help together, whether that’s mental health issues, or drug and alcohol problems or behavioural problems, or school attendance.

“You can fix one, but if you don’t address the other issues then any improvement isn’t sustained. This model has been very successful elsewhere.”

Credit: Aled Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter