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Stories show life-changing potential of new project

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Feeling adrift and alone, Reuben had been in care for three years and his mental health had suffered.

He was apart from his siblings, three of whom were also in care, with one still living at home with their mother.

An experienced social worker, working with Middlesbrough Council, listened and listened as Reuben explained his thoughts.

Reuben talked about how he felt like no one had considered what was best for him.

Robust assessment work found his mother had made and sustained significant progress in her life. A rehabilitation home plan was agreed and Reuben has now been back at home for four weeks. 

Moving children in care to the most appropriate placements for their needs is the focus of a project discussed by the Council's Executive last week

The Council has a high number of children in residential placements, often long distances from the town. Currently, 73 external placements cost the Council £12.4m a year.

As part of efforts to improve the care of these children, the Council commissioned a managed team, Innovate, to focus on their needs and find them permanent homes.

From July onwards, the progress of the project is estimated to have saved £385,000. It's projected the work could save £797,000 over the course of the next financial year.

A report on the Innovate project for councillors explains how financing the specialist expertise is an "invest to save" approach. The long-term aim is for the Council's own staff to continue the work.

When it's safe for them to do, so such as in Reuben's case, children will return home. Some may come back to residential provision in the Middlesbrough area.

Others, like Lauren get a completely new start.

Lauren had been waiting and waiting. In residential care for approaching three years, no suitable foster care placement had been found.

The Innovate social worker who began getting to know her was able to write a much more detailed pen picture of Lauren, including details of what she wanted herself for the future. Within 48 hours of it being completed, foster carers came forward.

The new information on Lauren demonstrated her strengths, particularly in respect of her relationships with staff and her personality.

Her new placement is an excellent match for her needs and vulnerabilities. Her carers are experienced in supporting vulnerable people of Lauren's age.

She's at the school she wants to be at and is being supported to have more independence in her spare time.

A further 27 children and young people have been identified for a potential phase two of the Innovate project. Twenty-seven more hearts and minds that could be engaged in the same way as Reuben and Lauren.

No longer adrift. No longer alone. Reuben is now looking to the future. There is a long road ahead but his voice has been heard.

For Lauren, work with the Council's Futures for Families team is helping her manage potentially difficult relationships with family members.

Her risks and vulnerabilities as a young adult have been reduced. If her progress continues she has the option of staying with her foster carers beyond the age of 18.

Hope for Reuben and Lauren. And a demonstration of how precious social work can be.

Cllr Antony High, Deputy Mayor of Middlesbrough and Executive Member for Children's Services said: "I've been so moved by hearing the early success stories from this project.

"The work we do with children and young people across Middlesbrough can be life-changing.

"The Innovate programme is in its infancy, but we can already see the powerful effect it can have in giving young people hope for the future.

"The fact that targeted intervention like this can ease strain on the Council budget is also very important."

Names have been changed in this report.

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