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Support children and young people to get the best start in life

Our shared challenge

Overall, west Cheshire is a great place to grow up for many, with good schools and educational settings in safe communities with access to a range of leisure and culture activities. We are investing more money in education to develop skills for life, but will continue to look for efficiencies in the way that specific services are delivered to maximise the impact additional investment can have. Children and families are supported to be safe and healthy and our child protection services are rated good by Ofsted. There are, however, a number of challenges.

  • Approximately 13 per cent of under 16s live in low income families. This is lower than the England average, but in some areas of west Cheshire child poverty is at least 35 per cent.
  • Whilst education outcomes are good for many children, we believe there is room for improvement at primary school level. There is also a gap in attainment between 'all pupils' and those who are disadvantaged. In west Cheshire this gap is greater than the national average and it is not being closed quickly enough.
  • There is an increase in children and young people with complex needs, especially where domestic abuse, exploitation and family emotional health and wellbeing are contributory factors.
  • Although the development of the Edge of Care team and other initiatives has meant that the number of children entering care has fallen by almost 40 per cent over the last two years, west Cheshire still has more children in care than the national average and the cost of specialist placements is escalating. We are constantly looking at ways to work with families at the earliest opportunity and tackle problems before they become a crisis. This is to ensure that the best decisions are made for children, with resources targeted to support them to remain safely with their families wherever possible or to meet their needs elsewhere if they cannot.The emotional health and wellbeing of our young people is an area of focus and we have higher rates of self harm and hospital admissions for mental health conditions than the national average, along with high numbers of unintentional injuries.
  • Demand for services that support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is growing. We have more children in specialist provision and funding is not keeping up with this growth which reflects the national picture.
  • We need to improve transitions between educational settings and from childhood to adulthood, making sure our young people have the skills and qualifications they need. The Social Mobility Commission has found that west Cheshire is amongst the worst 10 per cent of all local authority areas for 'youth social mobility' as measured by disadvantaged young people achieving good qualifications and progressing to university. 

What our residents think

When asked to rate the importance of various things in making somewhere a good place to live, residents gave education a score of 9 out of 10 and activities for children and young people a score of 8.5 out of 10.

Again, almost three quarters of participants supported the Council's proposals for this priority, particularly around supporting young people leaving care, promoting emotional health and wellbeing, raising attainment and reducing the attainment gap, and tackling domestic abuse at an earlier stage. Discussion focused on the need to promote social activities for young people and improving education, including raising aspirations, teaching life skills and post-16 opportunities.

A similar proportion of participants agreed with ideas of how local people could play their part, particularly around staying safe, thinking about wellbeing and making the best of educational opportunities.The key discussion themes coming out of engagement events with young people were around building the confident of young people and raising their ambitions, support for mental health, supporting young people into adulthood (including employment and housing opportunities) and ensuring equal opportunities for young people in vulnerable situations such as those in poverty, in care, or with special educational needs.

What our partners think

Health service partners highlighted the importance of the health and wellbeing of children and young people and their commitment to continue to work with the council to better engage children and families in the development of services, as well as specific services around physical activity, services for young people with special educational need and disability and improving the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Community and voluntary sector partners highlighted the positive work of the poverty truth commission and holiday hunger programme, as well as the need to strengthen the offer and support for young people particularly around mental health resilience, excluded young people and young carers.

Work with families to tackle child poverty through the poverty truth commission, the Welcome Network and expanding the holiday hunger programme.
Community and voluntary sector response

What success will look like

In tackling these challenges, our vision is to continue to support children and young people to thrive in their lives and break down barriers of inequality so they can fully achieve their ambitions and reach their potential. If we were successful by 2024 we would expect to see:

  • more intrusive statutory services
  • fewer children affected by complex issues such as domestic abuse, exploitation and family emotional health and wellbeing
  • higher levels of educational attainment and progression and a closing educational attainment gap between disadvantaged and more vulnerable children with their peers
  • higher levels of positive emotional health and wellbeing
  • more inclusive, sustainable and joined up services that meet the needs of children with SEND (special educational needs and disability)
  • a reduction in the rate of child poverty

How the Council will play its part

We want to work with all services across the Council and our partner agencies to develop a 'one children's service' approach. This will mean looking at the ways children and families interact with services and making sure there is more joined up support to meet their needs across areas like early help, education, youth services, special educational needs, children's social care and health. We will work with children, young people and families to create this new approach and learn from national and international best practice. The Council will continue to offer a range of parenting programmes and parenting skill courses with a strong evidence base to ensure that parents in need of support are provided with help to improve their skills and confidence. We will also work with other agencies to ensure we have a consistent approach across public services. The principles of early help, prevention and the effective use of data and engagement with families will be a focus across the whole of this programme.

We will continue to work with children and young people, parents and carers, schools settings, post-16 providers and other partners to ensure that SEND services are meeting needs and making people feel more included. We want to support special schools to share their expertise with mainstream schools to help more children with disorders such as autism or with moderate learning difficulties to be able to attend their local secondary school. We also want to improve residential provision and to help children and young people with SEND prepare for adulthood. Our work in this area will include supporting and training those working with SEND children to enable them to better meet their needs.

We will work with schools, settings and post-16 providers, through the Education Improvement Partnership, to improve the educational outcomes for all children and especially reduce the attainment gap between vulnerable and disadvantaged children compared to their peers. Governors, school and system leaders will be encouraged to support and challenge schools to improve outcomes, deploying pupil premiums in the optimum way whilst remaining inclusive and supporting children to move between key stages of education whilst still making progress. Best practice will be shared and progress will be continually monitored through the Education Improvement Partnership. We will make the case nationally for the fair funding of our schools and educational settings so they are able to meet local needs and will support schools to best use their pupil premiums. We will also ensure that services such as libraries are welcoming, from the bookstart offer for pre-school children to the removal of fines for late books from children under 12.

We will work with our partners to improve our support for the emotional health and wellbeing of children and young people. This will include greater awareness and training for the workforce, including specialist support for children who have had adverse experiences. We will also build the ability of schools and other settings to identify the early signs of mental health difficulties, intervene and explore digital services and support for parents and carers.

We want to do more to support those leaving our care into adulthood. As a corporate parent, we want to take a whole borough approach and improve our accommodation offer, improve local health services, support local apprenticeships and employment, and work with local businesses to support care leavers to get off to the best start in life.

We have established a second Poverty Truth Commission where those experiencing poverty have been able to share their experiences and help design solutions. We will continue to support the work of the Poverty Truth Commission and encourage other public sector organisations and local businesses to work differently to address poverty. The current Commission is exploring the issues of health (including mental health), housing and homelessness and food poverty. In the meantime one of our Council companies, Edsential, is offering support through the summer holidays for deprived families suffering from holiday hunger and the Welcome Network is a new project that looks to tackle loneliness and end food poverty. We will do all we can to work with families at the earliest stage to take advantage of their free nursery entitlement and, where possible, secure employment. We will look at how our Starting Well service collaborates with other organisations to enable, support and mentor parents to meet their aspirations. As a Council we will also consider our response to the 'stop the knock' campaign on local government debt collection and the benefit this could bring for both families and individuals who have fallen into debt with the Council.

We will work with young people, voluntary organisations and other agencies to ensure that our youth services respond to the changing needs of young adults living in our borough. We want to ensure that the services that they receive are joined up, inclusive and equip them with the life skills and knowledge they need as they move into adulthood.

We already have the 'Eat Well, Be Active' framework in place and will look to scale-up programmes such as the Daily Mile, Active Streets and local sport provision to tackle childhood obesity. Through Edsential we support healthy eating and provide good quality school meals that use local suppliers and farm assured meat. Targeted nutrition programmes and key campaigns will also be rolled out to encourage healthy lifestyles for children and families. We have already used our planning powers to reduce access to fast food, particularly close to schools and will review the impact that this has.

We will work with schools and colleges to ensure they are offering a curriculum that supports and inspires young people into adulthood and employment. We will continue to support and promote high quality careers advice to be provided by schools and colleges. We will especially focus on the preparation for adulthood of vulnerable children and young people, especially those in our care.

Following a review we will be investing in services that support survivors and children affected by domestic violence and abuse at the earliest stage. We also want to work with partners to support perpetrators of abuse to get the right support earlier to avoid the abuse escalating. We want this service to respond quickly to all those concerned. We believe this will help us to prevent higher risk cases of domestic abuse, which have devastating and long lasting impacts on children and families. We are working with partners to deliver the healthy relationships course targeted at young people as well as developing more dispersed domestic refuges across the Cheshire and Warrington sub-region. We will also continue our work with partners across Cheshire, promoting the Open the Door campaign and raising awareness with local businesses and others about the impact of domestic abuse and the part they can play in awareness raising.

Open the Door

How children and families can play their part

We want all of our residents to share their ideas on what we do and how we work and we are particularly keen for more children and young people to get involved. To find out what we're talking about or to get involed, visit the Participate Now website.

Participate Now

Consider the health and wellbeing advice available from the NHS and partners – eat well and be active and if you are a parent, carefully consider medical advice about vaccinations and breastfeeding.

As the speed and stress of modern life increases, people are becoming more aware of their mental health and wellbeing. Seek support if feeling anxious, stressed or lacking confidence; look after your mental wellbeing at least as much as your physical wellbeing.

Focusing on getting good vocational or academic qualifications will give you a wider choice and more opportunities as you grow older. School and college aren't only about qualifications though – there are huge ranges of sporting, leisure, cultural and social opportunities that are also available.

Avoid risky behaviours, whether that's on the roadside, at a party or online. Encourage your friends and peers to do the same.

Edge of Care

Cheshire West and Chester Council has seen a rise in children entering care in recent years; more acute than for many other local authorities. Within this context, our Edge of Care Team was launched to support families at significant risk of breakdown where other interventions were not making an impact. Three quarters of the children involved in this service avoided becoming Looked After Children and the Edge of Care Team contributed approximately £0.9million in cost avoidance which contributed towards the Council's cost reduction programme.

Investing in our priorities

We are planning to spend £66.6 million on children and families services in 2020-21. This would be 16 per cent more than the current budget. We will also invest £29.3 million of capital into this area over the next four years largely through Government grants but including £2 million of the Council's own resources. This will be directed to schools, youth provision, and housing for children in care.

Who needs to be involved to make this happen?

Key services within the Council that contribute to this priority include:

  • Childrens Social Care
  • Commissioned services
  • Domestic Violence Services
  • Early Help
  • Education
  • Housing Solutions
  • Public Health
  • Starting Well Service
  • Youth Services
  • Youth Offending Service

Supporting plans and strategies

  • Children and Young People Plan
  • Domestic Abuse Strategy
  • High Needs Review
  • Parenting Strategy
  • Place Plan

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