DCSIMG

Safeguarding team are there to care

For even the most experienced of teachers, it is a situation that poses a heartbreaking challenge.

Your class are sharing their stories during circle time when a pupil raises his hand and tells you, quite frankly, that his mum struck him last night.

He even shows you the bruises to prove it.

Would you know what to do next?

This team of specialist support workers are on hand to help keep some of the most vulnerable children safe as they grow up in Leeds.

The workers behind the city’s pioneering Front Door service are the first line of defence for professionals worried that children could be at risk of neglect, abuse or harm in their own homes.

The dedicated team - made up of specialist social workers, health care professionals and police officers - field hundreds of calls every week from concerned professionals in the city.

They can receive up to 400 and 600 calls every week and they are expecting the number of calls to rise in the summer as families venture outside.

And their response is crucial to make sure the most vulnerable of children are safeguarded from harm.

Gail Faulkner, head of children’s social work (south) said: “It is absolutely crucial that children have to be safe and we are a huge part of keeping children safe in Leeds.

“We are dealing with vulnerability and children and it is all about making sure their childhood is the best it can possibly be.

“Staff work incredibly hard but the job is incredibly rewarding and we are extremely proud of what we do.”

She said that the city’s children’s services were overhauled after education watchdog Ofsted’s damning report in 2009.

Inspectors said some children in Leeds were being left “at potential risk of serious harm” and that the children’s services department had “serious weaknesses”.

The authority’s pioneering Front Door service was created to help keep youngsters safe.

The service allows professionals, families and neighbours from across the city to speak to a trained professional if they are concerned about the safety of a child.

It can be used by teachers who are concerned about something a child has said to them in the classroom.

The Front Door also receives calls from worried neighbours who fear that a child could be left home alone.

Before the special Front Door was set up they would have to contact the authority’s call centre which would also field calls from across the city about a myriad of queries such as bins, potholes and licensing.

And staff who manned the phone lines would often find it challenging to prioritise calls about vulnerable children.

Ms Faulkner added: “In 2009 Oftsed officials came into Leeds and inspectors said that we were not doing very well.

“We had trained call centre staff but they weren’t professional social workers taking these calls and it was difficult to see what was the serious issues that we needed to respond to.

“We do know that where things go wrong with children it is because people have not shared information.

“We have dedicated police officers and health professionals in the team and they each get their records off their agency and are able to share information every day where we are concerned about a child.

“One of our main successes has been the work with police.

“We share all we know and they share what they know with us to look at both sets of records and make a decision about what we do to help that family.

“Sometimes a social worker going to a family can be quite scary and people think they are going to lose their children when social workers get involved.

“Sometimes there are children who do have to leave their families but it is all about what is best for them.

“We try to keep children with families if it is safe to do so.

“Children do best in their families and our priority is to reduce the risks in families such as drug taking and children not being looked after properly.”

And the pioneering service has even attracted the attention of other local authorities who want to follow Leeds’s lead.

Charlotte Jackson from the service added: “At the end of the day we want children to be safe and live happy and safe lives with good outcomes.

“Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.

“Everyone’s eyes and ears are there and we want good outcomes for children.”

Nigel Richardson, director of children’s services in Leeds, praised the dedicated team of workers who are behind the Front Door project.

He said: “This is probably one of the most important aspects of social work.

“We need to make it as easy as possible for people, especially professionals, to contact us and talk to a relevant safeguarding professionals.

“They can give them that advice about what needs to happen to safeguard and promote the welfare of that child.

“It is a complicated area and we have tried to make it as simple as possible with the Front Door.

“We work on the premise that you must never do nothing.

“We are putting our best people on the Front Door and if we want to make Leeds a child friendly city we really need to get under the skin of issues.

Councillor Judith Blake, executive member for children’s services, added: “We don’t know what is going to come through on the end of the phone.

“The vast majority of calls are about people who are struggling to bring up a child in difficult or challenging circumstances.

“The change that has happened over the last few years is quite extraordinary.”

IN FOCUS

Safeguarding the city’s most vulnerable children is one of the biggest challenges for council chiefs.

The Yorkshire Evening Post recently reported on the devastating toll domestic violence is having on families across Leeds.

Child protection officers in the city received over 3,620 referrals in the space of just one year highlighting concerns that children were believed to be at risk from violence.

Nearly one in 50 babies born in some of the most deprived parts of the city, including areas such as Beeston and Belle Isle, were taken into care at birth or in the first few months of their lives.

And the proportion of children entering care at birth or before their fifth birthday has increased “significantly”.

Figures show that six out of 10 children starting care are under the age of five - compared to four out of ten nationally.

But council chiefs say improved joint ways of working have helped to reduce the overall number of children and young people in care in Leeds over the last two years.

And initiatives like the Front Door are part of their vision to help make Leeds one of the best cities for children to grow up in.

Councillor Judith Blake, executive member responsible for children’s services said: “If we are serious about Leeds being recognised as a child friendly city then we have to be ready to tackle these issues head on.

“That is why we have invested in our social work workforce and strengthened our multi-agency practice on the front door.”

The authority is one of 15 in the region to have joined the Children’s Social Work Matters campaign.

Alison O’Sullivan, director for Children and Adults at Kirklees Council, is leading the Children’s Social Work Matters campaign.

She said: “The Front Door project is one of many great examples of how local authorities across our region are introducing new and innovative ways of working to improve the way in which we deliver services.”

 

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