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Hertfordshire Council shake-up of children's services introduces advanced psychological counselling training

With nearly £5m of government funding, Hertfordshire County Council aims to change the way children's social workers practice in order to keep more families together.

In the new scheme 26 “family safeguarding teams” will be set up throughout the country. Each will comprise several children’s social workers, a domestic abuse specialist and a community psychiatric nurse.

All staff members will be trained in “motivational interviewing” techniques, a practice originally developed by psychologists in the 1980s to support alcoholics.

The objective is to aid the most vulnerable children’s parents to explore their attitude towards behaviour change, using warmth and empathy to strengthen the parents’ motivation to change through a negotiation process.

After being trialled in Islington, the concept will form the basis of child safeguarding practice across an entire authority for the first time.

The £4.86m Hertfordshire County Council has received is the highest amount paid out by the Department for Education (DfE) so far as part of the £100m Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.

Last year, Signs of Safety initiative, backed by Professor Eileen Munro, was awarded £4.8m under the scheme, to run in 10 authorities.

Hertfordshire’s claimed that it would aim to create "a more integrated and effective child protection system that can be adopted by other authorities or indeed the country as a whole".

Besides motivational interviewing, teams will also adopt a new “electronic workbook” for assessment recording, to reduce administration time.

The authority has said it will seek permission from the DfE to use it instead of the current requirements of case notes, chronologies and reports, which it said can be “repetitive and time-consuming”.

“We are planning a completely new way of working for social workers, which represents a great hope for the future,” stated Richard Roberts, lead member for children’s services at the council.

“Our pioneering new approach will cut down on red tape and free up our social workers to spend less time at a desk and more time with families.

“We will also be working closely with our partners to ensure vulnerable families get all the help they need, when they need it.”

The new system is to be launched in stages across the county, starting with south east Hertfordshire in April, followed by north Hertfordshire in June, and west Hertfordshire in October.

Writing in CYP Now this week, children’s minister Edward Timpson said the innovation programme has had 285 expressions of interest, with 19 receiving funding so far.