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Guardian Public Service Awards: care winner

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At-risk teenagers are being helped with a pioneering new approach to care that’s turning young lives around

Wed 27 Nov 2019

Last modified on Wed 27 Nov 2019

Hillingdon council: Hillingdon adolescents team

Nicolas was just 15 when he became caught in a downward spiral that started with smoking cannabis and school exclusions and ended with him being recruited into a county lines gang – the criminal networks exploiting teenagers to funnel drugs from towns and cities.

Arrested in possession of thousands of pounds worth of crack cocaine in Bournemouth, the future looked bleak for the teenager, who should have been studying for his GCSEs. Instead, the young runaway from Hillingdon in London was on the brink of going into care and looked destined for prison.

Today, Nicolas (not his real name), now 17, is living at home, attending college, and has a qualification in electrical engineering. He has also been helped to cut ties with the gang – all thanks to a groundbreaking Hillingdon council project that gives individual budgets to social workers.

Hillingdon adolescents team is behind the scheme, which offers support to young people at high risk of being taken into care. They may be being sexually or criminally exploited, involved in serious youth crime, have gone missing from home or face family breakdown. Help is also extended to their families.

Set up in November 2018 with £400,000 funding from the Department for Education’s What Works for Children’s Social Care change programme, the project is supporting 100 at-risk teenagers aged 12 to 17.

The full impact of the project is yet to be measured. However, an internal evaluation of its first six months shows 36 young people who would otherwise have gone into care were supported to remain at home.

There was also a reduction in missing episodes, an increase in school, college and employment attendance, and reduction in accommodation of young people.

“Before we set up the team, we couldn’t get young people to engage,” says Julie Kelly, assistant director of safeguarding at Hillingdon council.

“Now they engage straight away by choosing their social worker. Social workers see the young people when they need it – it might be every day for a month or every other day – rather than the traditional fortnightly appointments.”

Social workers are given a real-time insight into young people at risk through Axis – an intelligent data mapping software that analyses information sharing from police, education, social care, health, youth services and schools and calculates risk. Action is then taken to intervene with the at-risk young person.

As well as choosing their own social worker, young people are empowered to collaborate and co-produce their own intervention plans. In February the project took a step forward when frontline staff were given personal budgets for young people to spend without managerial approval. Removing red tape in this way has allowed social workers to think creatively and find solutions quickly to support young people and their families. Activities range from taking a young person out for a meal, to paying for gym membership, therapy, driving lessons or the costs of a laptop.

For Nicolas, one-to-one meetings outside the family home with his social worker helped build up a trusting relationship. Slowly they worked together on conflict resolution, managing his diabetes and accessing specialist help to cut ties with the drugs gang. Over six months money was spent on redecorating his bedroom, encouraging Nicolas off the streets. He has also had driving lessons – something he hopes to put to use in a future job. He is now studying for his next level in electrical engineering.

“Initially he shouted abuse at me, but that changed and he told me what was troubling him,” says Kudakwashe Kurashwa, Nicolas’s social worker. “He now has a new friendship group and is getting on well with the family, and studying for his level in electrical engineering – I have helped change the environment but Nicolas changed himself. In the past it has been hard to get young people to change. But when you see these results, it is really satisfying.”

Another person helped by the team is 16-year-old John, who has Asperger’s syndrome, and was expelled from school for smoking cannabis. He began using crack cocaine, heroin and amphetamines after being tricked into taking them. He has been helped to get off the drugs, had regular gym sessions and been supported to do triple science GCSEs as he is interested in a career in medicine.

Kelly is optimistic that social workers will continue with the devolved budgets with savings from care costs being given to the team to carry on with their work.

Nicolas has no doubt how much he has been helped by the team. “I could have been in prison now. But thanks to Kuda, who came into my life when I was going through a very difficult time, I am looking forward to bettering my life.”

Independent Living Fund Scotland: transition fund

Disabled young people with complex needs are being helped to realise their potential and lead independent lives, thanks to a pioneering new service that places them at its heart. Hundreds of 16- to 21-year-olds in Scotland and Northern Ireland have been helped to make the transition to adulthood via an easy-to-use digital system of grants.

Co-produced by service users, the Independent Living Fund Scotland transition fund for young people provides funding empowering them to improve life choices and play an active role in their communities.

The fund is easier to use than traditional services, which often require a formal needs assessment and involve a complicated application process. Applications can be made within 20 minutes and decisions announced the next day. Harvey Tilley, chief operating officer, says: “The impact for young people has been incredible. Not only have they received funding to purchase items and services that have transformed their lives, they have been given the trust, dignity and respect to determine what is important to them.”

Applicants include young people on the autism spectrum and those with learning disabilities, mental ill health or physical difficulties. Grants average £2,500 and there is a limit of £7,500 a year.

One successful applicant is Katie McClusky, 16, who has Down’s syndrome. She recently applied to the fund to advance her horse skills and gain a formal qualification.

Since the digital launch of the fund a year ago, more than 1,000 applications have been approved, totalling almost £2.5m in grants.

Mary Stevens Hospice

A hospice project aimed at improving services for people on the margins of society has broken new ground in palliative care training. Working with Birmingham City University, learning disability organisations, police and hostel workers, staff at the Mary Stevens Hospice in the West Midlands have held workshops on palliative care and raised awareness of support. It is thought to be the first time police in the UK have had palliative care training.

The hospice originally focused on the needs of people with learning disabilities and dementia. It invested in specialist sensory equipment to support patients in a safe setting and included picture signs to clinical services. But the death of a homeless man in Dudley in January 2018 prompted staff to expand the project and hold workshops raising awareness of palliative care and bereavement support to police, hostel workers and local authority staff. Police discovered the body of 46-year-old Steven Garratt in a derelict spot, with his dog at his side. It was just seven miles from the hospice, which wants to see palliative and end of life care accessible, inclusive and available to all.

Gemma Allen, hospice diversity and inclusion lead, says: “Steven’s death got us thinking about how we could help people who are homeless. People experiencing homelessness may face obstacles accessing healthcare.”

Workshop delegates identified five people in their last year of life and referred them to the hospice following the training.

The hospice, which received £20,000 in grants for learning disability and dementia work, plans to share and build on its work.


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