Friday, 10 February 2017

It takes a village to raise a child

I haven’t blogged for a while about what’s been happening in our Children’s Services – known as Start of Life. That’s not because nothing much is happening – indeed very much to the contrary. We have been really busy focusing on how we deliver those vital services for children and families based on our Early Help and Prevention Plan.

A key example is the considerable work being undertaken to redesign our model of support for families and children. This will look at how vital early help support is given to children and families in our county.

We know if we can help families early, the outcomes are better all round – you know the old saying ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, and sometimes we need to look at a different way to solve a problem.

Our ambition is to give children in West Sussex the best start in life. We are totally committed to that key principle and there are many children around the county who do have the best start in life but sadly, for a variety of reasons, that is not the case for everyone. It is those youngsters that we need to concentrate on to help them and their families when needed.

Just this week we welcomed the Harvard Kennedy Graduate Performance Lab (GPL) to the County Council. GPL looks at how governments in America can improve the results they achieve for their citizens. They wanted to visit us to get a wider understanding of how our Think Family programme delivers whole family working in West Sussex. While here, they spoke to the Think Family team, front line workers and also families who have been helped. They were clearly impressed with how successful Think Family has been in West Sussex and they will be keeping in touch with us to further explore how our system works.

Last month, I was delighted to attend a very inspiring event, which looked at our vision for children and young people in West Sussex. We were lucky enough to welcome the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, where she spoke about the national picture and how to improve the outcomes for children in need.

It was so good to hear her praise our Children and Young Peoples’ Services. You can view a video to see Anne speaking about the work going on in West Sussex. Anne also answered questions from the West Sussex Youth Cabinet on a range of topics including plans for the country to leave the European Union and her views on lowering the age at which young people can vote.

The event brought together my fellow Council Members together with health services, partners and professionals to showcase the innovative ways they are helping young people and families in West Sussex. That was really important because we do not do this work alone – we work in partnership with other organisations including the NHS, focused on the need of the child and family. It is the same across the County Council –we work in partnership with fellow organisations delivering the key services to provide the best outcomes for residents in our communities.

I am particularly thrilled that we will also be launching our 1,001 critical days manifesto in March. The aim of this is to highlight the importance of the 1,001 days from when a baby is conceived until the age of two. This period of life is a crucial time to increase a child’s life chances. Research shows that it is not when a baby is born, but what happens during pregnancy. This is still pioneering work and West Sussex is very much to the fore in this work. As you know, we are committed to doing all we can to give children the best start in life from the very beginning – watch out for more news on this in further blogs.

I mustn’t forget that our Healthy Child Programme was also discussed at the event. We’ve recently awarded Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust the contract to provide the 0 to 19 community nursing service for families in West Sussex. This will create a more integrated model bringing together health visiting, school nurses and early help and prevention services. We’ve extended the service to cover children and young people up to the age of 19 and we will be working in partnership with Barnardo’s to provide a new Skills for Life service for people with special educational needs and disabilities aged up to 25-years-old. We’re also planning additional investment into digital technologies to improve communication and engagement between young people, parents, carers and professionals.

And why is all this so important? Well, it’s estimated that we have 12,000 children in need of support across West Sussex. It’s important that we provide the right support at the start of life – working with the whole family. This was something stressed by Anne at the event, who said: ‘It’s really important that we recognise that children have their own social networks, they have their family environments and digital environments, and the services need to understand that they are part of that whole - if they want to help support young people to flourish, use some of those ways of doing that too’.

The event brought many like-minded people and organisations together – we all want to ensure our West Sussex children are given the very best start in life and have plenty of opportunities open to them. As ever, we know there’s more we can do, and that’s why our partnership working is so very important.

The event saw lots of interesting questions and conversations, and I’m delighted the Children’s Commissioner for England was able to take part.

Best wishes,

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