An ambitious new vision for how public services will come together to better help and support children and their families in Devon is being launched this week.
The Devon Children and Young People’s Plan brings together all the local agencies responsible for helping children, young people and their families including schools, councils, health services, the police, and community organisations in a clear shared vision of how they will work together to tackle the real challenges and big issues facing families, children and young people in the county today.
More than 22,000 children in Devon are living in poverty – that’s one in seven. There are 19,200 children with a special educational need and more than 740 vulnerable children in council care.
The new plan details how each agency will work together with families and communities to give every child the best start in life, ensure they are supported to be safe and well, and can fulfil their potential. It has been developed after extensive consultation with local families and children about what support they feel they need.
It’s the first time all the organisations in Devon have come together in this way to spell out a common vision and detail how they can use their expertise to make the best use of scarce public resources.
At its heart it recognises that many issues facing children and families are complex and inter-related and that problems in early life can have a huge impact on public services later in life.
The key priorities for action include:
• Improving the way local agencies work together to protect children at risk despite growing pressure on the care system
• Improving the way families and schools are supported to deal with the growing numbers of children with special educational needs and autism
• Helping young people stay out of trouble and be safe from gangs, drugs and exploitation
• Dealing with the big rise in mental health issues, self-harm and suicide among young people.
Launching the new plan, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for Children’s Services, James McInnes, said: “I welcome and support this ambitious plan that brings everyone together to focus on giving our children the best possible start in life.
“I’m proud Devon is one of the first places in the country to bring agencies together in this way to tackle the big issues we face.
“We all want our children to thrive with the opportunities to realise their full potential. Everyone should have access to a good education with extra support if they need it, and with good local opportunities when they leave school.
“But we face some real issues in Devon such as how to support a growing number of children with complex additional needs or with problems such as autism and we face a tough challenge in getting the right support to families when they most need it.
“By coming together to focus on the things that matter most to families we have been able to identify where we can do things better and target our resources to deliver a real difference.
“Clearly, the proof of the pudding will be in what we do to deliver on the plan but I have every confidence this will help drive real improvement in the way we help and support children and families across Devon.”
Chief Superintendent Keith Perkin of Devon & Cornwall Police is the Chair of the Devon Children and Families Partnership. Launching the joint plan, he said:
“As a Partnership we want to make the biggest possible difference to the lives of children and families across Devon and that means coming together to look out for children and to support struggling families.
“We all know that some children do not grow up in a good, supportive and loving environment and a key part of our vision is for every child and young person to be kept safe, away from potential harm and out of trouble. That means understanding more about an individual families’ situation, getting to the root of any problems and acting early to prevent issues getting worse.
“The new Children and Young People’s Plan is important because it brings all the main agencies together with agreed priorities for action but we know that our services and professionals are only a part of the story.
“We all live as part of our community with a network of family, friends and other support and that is why we want everyone from local employers to sports clubs to voluntary groups to join with us and to consider themselves a part of the plan.
“As police officers, we are often called on to help deal with children, young people and families in crisis. This includes incidents of domestic violence and abuse, of child neglect, and of vulnerable young people being actively exploited. There are also new and emerging issues such as on-line bullying, gang and knife crime and radicalisation.
“These are often only symptoms of bigger issues such as trauma, mental health issues, drugs and alcohol abuse, or relationship problems, and no single agency can deal with all these on its own.
“We already work closely together with social workers, teachers and others as a multi-agency partnership on a daily basis to try to protect children from physical harm and sexual abuse.
“This plan not only recognises and supports this but goes further to show how we must work better together to identify potential trouble earlier and ensure the right help and support is given to those families, children and young people at greatest risk.”
Another important part of the plan deals with keeping children healthy and well and promoting young people’s welfare and wellbeing.
Speaking on behalf of local health services, Lorraine Webber, Interim Director of Nursing at NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said:
“For the first time, this joint plan sets out local priorities for improving health outcomes for children and young people across the county which are owned and shared by all local agencies and these will now become a key part of our emerging NHS Long Term Plan.
“I welcome the plan’s recognition that people’s lives are complex and that many issues can be inter-related and that we will always aim to work with whole families to understand their situation to deal with the root cause of problems wherever we can and not just keep applying sticking plasters.
“For most children, it is the immediate family network that ensures their good health and emotional wellbeing. The plan shows how our Ante-natal, Maternity, Public Health Nursing and Children’s Centres will all work together to try to ensure that no infant, child or family slips through the net and that we are able to give the most vulnerable families all the help and support they need.
“In Devon we have a number of issues that we must continue to focus on including improving care for children with long term conditions such as asthma and diabetes, and working to tackle issues such as child obesity. But three key priorities have emerged for urgent action and improvement.
“One growing area of concern is a rise in instances of self-harm and suicide among young people. Anxiety, depression and other emotional wellbeing issues are on the increase, particularly among adolescent girls. This plan makes this a real priority for action and clearly sets out how partners in schools, community health settings, social workers, emergency services and specialist mental health services will all work together to better support young people at risk.
“Earlier identification and prompt intervention with potential problems in a child’s communication, speech and language development has also been identified as a top priority.
“Problems in this area have been shown to be a cause for many later behavioural problems and other issues in young people and helping professionals and practitioners to better understand and respond with appropriate and ongoing support and to improve our offer to children is vital.
“We also have a growing number of children with autism and related conditions and we will be working closely together to make sure children who display behaviours linked to autism and their families get better information and support and do not have to wait for a formal diagnosis.”