Children at risk assessments change in Somerset

Child on stairs The family assessment team says community-based placements are in the interests of children

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Courts in Somerset are being asked to accept a new way of assessing whether children are at risk.

Family assessments help the courts to decide whether children should be taken from their parents and put into care.

Social services wants to increase the number of community-based assessments instead of residential ones.

Head of children and families services Steve Tanner said: "It's much more natural in a family community setting than in an institutional setting."

'Bonding and attachment'

The team has said they also give a more accurate picture of the birth parents' care-giving abilities.

"We would be looking at parenting capacity and whether they can provide basic care for a child.

"Typical things for a baby would be feeding, changing nappies but it's also critical things like bonding and attachment and seeing if the parent can meet their emotional needs as well," said Mr Tanner.

Community-based assessments involve children and parents living with a specialist foster carer who will work closely with a social worker assigned to the case.

"The main benefit is that it gives a more realistic assessment where people behave more naturally rather than in an institution, and in the end it is in best interests for the children," said Mr Tanner.

Residential assessments involve several families being placed in the same building, is more labour-intensive and has a surveillance based approach using CCTV-monitoring.

Process the paperwork

The family assessments budget is being cut by £250,000 by the council and it is hoped this new approach will also cut costs.

Currently residential placements can cost up to £5,500 a week but community-based ones are about £1,000 a week.

Three social work staff will also be recruited by Somerset County Council adding to the existing team of four who will process the paperwork.

The council also wants to recruit up to 10 specialist foster carers to increase capacity.

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