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Pioneering project to reduce the number of children in care receives government backing
16/02/2015

A pioneering Norfolk project that could prevent up to 180 children going into care each year has received government backing today.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Norfolk County Council, the Benjamin Foundation and the Short Stay School for Norfolk have been awarded more than £1million from the Department of Education to develop the joint project, which combines educational support and therapy.

The project could save £3million a year by improving placement stability and thereby reducing the number of children in care and the number being educated out of county in specialist provision.

Working with children with behavioural, social and emotional difficulties and their families, the project will help to provide education placements, therapy, short-breaks provision and parenting support.

Known as The Compass Approach, it will build upon the success of the Compass Centre, which opened in Great Yarmouth in 2009, part of the Short Stay School for Norfolk, and which has recently been extended to support children in King's Lynn and Norwich.

The school works with children with challenging behaviour, giving them access to all of the services they need in one place and helping them to stay in education.

Evidence suggests that providing consistent education is key to keeping families together, as parents and carers can be overwhelmed when trying to meet the needs of children who are permanently excluded from schools.

Since The Compass was developed, the attendance rate has been 90% and none of its pupils have been permanently excluded.

The new project would create a so-called 'Virtual Residential School' for children with behaviour, social and emotional difficulties who are at risk of coming into care.

Children will be based in Norfolk's Short Stay School, as well as the county's mainstream schools, with services from across agencies provided to the children and their families.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust will provide therapeutic support to the young people and their families to help them understand and address the cause of their behaviour.

Meanwhile, Norfolk County Council will provide residential placements and short breaks, giving respite to families – as well as access to its 24-hour outreach service, which supports families in crisis.

The Benjamin Foundation will provide family and parent mentoring support in the community and positive activities to help keep families together.

The approach will also support children who are already in care, to prevent their foster care placement from breaking down.

All services for the child and family will be coordinated from within the school environment by health, social care, voluntary sector and education partners, so that vulnerable children do not fall through the gaps.

Michael Scott, Chief Executive at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We are delighted that the government has recognised the importance of The Compass and is enabling our Trust, Norfolk County Council and the Benjamin Foundation to provide it to even more vulnerable young people in the county.

"The Compass is an excellent example of the quality of services our Trust provides with its partners and was praised in a recent report by the Care Quality Commission for helping reduce the number of admissions of you people to hospital.

"We have also received very positive feedback from young people at The Compass Centre, their parents and carers, which further highlights that by working together, we are able to provide excellent services that make a real difference."

James Joyce, Chairman of the Children's Services Committee at Norfolk County Council, said: "Children and young people with behavioural difficulties are among the most vulnerable in the county and need a range of specialist support.

"Behavioural issues can be the result of trauma they have suffered in their lives and can lead to families breaking down. Some needs are so complex that children find themselves being educated out of county.

"We want these children to stay in Norfolk, wherever possible, and to give their families the package of support they need to stay together.

"This approach, which combines therapy, education and respite, is aimed at helping children to overcome their difficulties and access education, as well as providing the outreach services that can help to reduce the number of children coming into care."

Sarah Jones, Deputy Chief Executive at The Benjamin Foundation said: "We are delighted to be working in partnership to deliver this service for Norfolk. Our experience of working with families will help provide a 'front door' for young people and families to access this support."