High demand on social care services in Newcastle was reducing the ability of key workers to enact direct change for young people and their families. An overly bureaucratic system and ineffective responses led to children spending too long in a system that was not promoting lasting change.
The Family Insights programme is a new approach to social work with an ambition to reduce bureaucracy, increase the opportunities for direct work and increase the confidence of social workers that they can effect lasting change for families. At the core of the model is needs-based segmentation: a restructuring of the social work team into four units focused on families with similar needs and characteristics, based on data already collected by partner agencies.
Data analysts are embedded in teams to enable effective use of research and information, generating insights that support practice and improve social workers’ understanding of the circumstances in which particular interventions are most effective for different families. Combined with redesigning care management systems and a focus on mobile learning, the changes allow more direct and systematic work with families, with an increased emphasis on informed decision-making. Underpinning these changes has been a commitment to having learning at the centre of the organisation, with sharing, within and across teams, encouraged as a way to establish a learning culture.
Segmented units are being rolled out across children’s social care and Newcastle City Council is mainstreaming systemic practice through all teams working with families. In order to sustainably scale the model there is need to further support partner agencies and encourage well-resourced support services to provide early help and step-down support, while also protecting caseloads within Family Insights. This will ensure practitioners’ ability to engage in more pro-active, preventative work.
The DfE-funded independent evaluation published in 2017 looked at 87 cases in the Family Insights programme and found that:
- The number of young people in care and on child protection plans was reduced.
- Fewer cases experienced a re-referral under the Family Insights model.
- 50% of looked after children were returned to their families, compared to 25% under the preceding model.
- There was a 20% increase in the number of social workers who said they had the right training to do effective work with families.