Leeds children’s services awarded £9.6 million to help spread excellence

Leeds, Leeds Star

It has been announced today that Leeds City Council’s children’s services has been selected to be a national ‘partner in practice’ to share its expertise with other local authorities.

The Department for Education has confirmed that Leeds has been successful in its bid for innovation funding and will be awarded £9.59m over the next three years. This is the largest amount awarded to any of the department’s ‘Partners in practice’ and a reflection of the confidence they have in the city’s restorative approach to working with children and families and also in their work in supporting other local authorities to be innovative too.

Leeds is the second largest Local Authority in the country with a population of 180,000 children and young people and one in five of those young people are growing up in poverty. 67% of children living in poverty in Leeds live in a family where at least one adult is in work. The innovative work Leeds has been undertaking has seen successes in spite of these increasing challenges, this includes safely reducing the number of children in care by 15.5% in the last six years, compared to an increase of 8.6% nationally. It is this work that has been recognised by the Department for Education as Leeds continues to secure better outcomes for its children and young people.

This is the second successful bid for innovation funding for children’s services in Leeds, who were appointed as a ‘Partner in practice’ in 2016 in recognition of work in the city with children and families, and the ambition to make Leeds the best city in the UK for children and young people to live and grow up in – a child friendly city.

The Partners in Practice programme is a partnership between national and local government to ‘understand, capture and spread excellence’.

Councillor Lisa Mulherin executive member for children and families said:

“We have made bold decisions in Leeds to continue to invest in children’s services in our city despite tightening local government finances. We have retained all of our children’s centres in the city, kept a youth service and a school improvement service. Investing in children saves money for tax payers later in life.

“We welcome this new funding, which will enable us to take forward the successful work that we have been championing with children and families in the city over the past five years. Our approach has been key in improving outcomes for families and safely reducing the number of children in the city that are taken into care, bucking the national trend.”

Steve Walker, director of children’s services said:

“Innovation funding is awarded to local authorities in order to help develop good practice, and the DfE has asked us to explore how we can effectively disseminate our learning with others. We have already welcomed more than one third of all the local authorities in the country to Leeds to share our journey of improvement, and this award will enable us to take this work still further.

“Much of our success has been the result of strong partnership working with schools, GPs and third sector organisations in clusters. Children live in families and communities, and this funding will help us to strengthen our resources and the support available in local areas to ensure that families get the support they need at the earliest possible time.”

The Innovation Fund money will be used for three key areas, building on the progress of recent years and responding to new pressures on local services, which are:

Restorative early support teams – building on successful pilots in the city and improving work with families who are facing more complex challenges. RES teams will be initially established in eight high need clusters, then extended to all neighbourhoods of the city.

Restorative adolescent service – adolescence can be a worrying and troubling time for some young people. Working in partnership with the NHS, we have recently developed the MindMate resource, which offers support and information about emotional wellbeing and mental health issues and launched the first joined up health and education Emotional and Mentla Health Strategy.The innovation funding will be used to recruit leading practitioners and additional experts/specialists in key areas such as psychology and speech and language therapy to improve the way we work with these young people, and the way that we work with their families to enable them to help their children.

Centre of Excellence The final element of the funding will be used to create a centre of excellence, building on the existing work of children’s services in Leeds to help other areas and other councils to reform and improve their work with children and families. The centre of excellence will run a range of initiatives and events across the north and across England. The centre will particularly focus on areas where Leeds is leading the way nationally – on leadership, restorative practice, and developments such as the ‘Front Door’ for contacts.

In 2015 Leeds became the first core city in the Country to achieve a ‘good’ rating overall, with ‘outstanding’ leadership, management and governance. Leeds followed this positive outcome with a best-practice sharing event, with 120 delegates from 40 local authorities attending. Since then the council has also shared its improvement journey with over a third of all local authorities in the country.