Early intervention could improve families’ lives – Gwenda Thomas

Deputy Minister for Social Services Gwenda Thomas looks at a project which aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged children.

WE CANNOT escape the consequences of family breakdown in today’s society. Such breakdowns have negative social and economic implications that affect us all, wherever we live.

As Deputy Minister for Social Services, I am driven to improve the lives of vulnerable children and their families and to create a better and fairer Wales for all.

In March I laid the draft Children and Families (Wales) Measure, which sets a clear direction for the Welsh Assembly Government to improve the quality of life and equality of opportunity for disadvantaged children and families.

One of the key elements from this draft measure is the creation of integrated family support teams to help those families who have complex needs, such as substance misuse and domestic violence.

I announced in August that three areas have been chosen to pioneer this ground-breaking programme – in Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Newport and Wrexham.

These three areas will receive up to £600,000 each financial year over the next three years to support the establishment of the new teams.

These new multi-agency teams, which are unique to Wales, will bring together key professionals – social workers, family workers, substance misuse professionals, nurses and health visitors, to work directly with families to protect and support vulnerable children.

Their work will begin in Spring 2010 with the aim of rolling out the teams across Wales within the next five years.

We know from experience that early intervention with practical help on a one-to-one basis is the key to helping families with problems turn their lives around.

The teams will help identify these families earlier and work intensively with them to make the necessary lifestyle changes in order to keep a child or children at home.

They will also identify those parents who are unable to carry out their parenting roles so that alternative care arrangements can be made at an earlier stage.

The new teams will be able to work with children and families where children have already been taken into care and with support, look to enable the child to move back home where it is safe to do so. They will also better connect children and adult services with a focus on the family.

The overall aim is to develop closer working and integration of NHS and council services to overcome the silo mentality that can currently exist between some children’s and adult services.

As well as supporting children and families, the new teams will provide supervised training and development for other staff working within the NHS in Wales and local authorities.

Staff within the new teams will be able to learn skills from other professionals, and the pioneering areas will test new social care workforce roles including the role of a consultant social worker.

The development of integrated family support teams will require services to be remodelled and we will be learning from the pioneering areas to make real and lasting improvements for the benefit of all Wales.

Initially, the teams will focus on supporting families where one or more parent has a substance misuse problem and the child may be in need or at risk.

This will support a range of work which is under way to improve child safeguards, mental health and reduce substance misuse.

Often mental health and substance misuse is interlinked and it is therefore important we tackle both issues together.

I know from talking to frontline staff that they are looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead with this pioneering work and I know that many vulnerable children and their families will have their lives transformed for the better in Wales.