Specialist child exploitation charity Safe and Sound has been appointed to deliver a special programme that aims to strengthen family relationships and reduce the number of young people going into local authority care in Derby city.

The charity has worked closely with Derby City Council to deliver a pilot Family Group Conference programme in the city which is the first in the Midlands and were part of a competitive tendering process to determine its future delivery.

The programme was originally devised by Leeds City Council and centres around empowering and supporting families to find solutions to the issues they face and remain together as a family unit rather than matters escalating and their children being placed in care.

Over the two-year pilot, 115 families have been referred to Safe and Sound by Derby City Council with 95 conference reviews held – bringing the wider family around the table to discuss the future of the children.

Issues have ranged from single parents who have been empowered to ask their families for practical and emotional support to children being cared for by other family members rather than being placed in care due to issues at home.

Safe and Sound has drawn on its experience in supporting children and young people who are victims of or at risk of exploitation including online grooming, sexual exploitation, County Lines, trafficking, modern slavery and radicalisation as well as helping the wider family.

Safe and Sound chief executive Tracy Harrison explained: “We were originally appointed to lead on this pilot programme because of our proven track record in protecting and supporting children, young people and families – empowering them to take back control and re-build their lives.

“Children in care are more vulnerable to exploitation and if we can keep them safer in the family home it reduces that risk too.

“We also have widespread experience of supporting young people and families who are new arrivals to the city such as those in the Roma community who have a long-held mistrust of authority and whose children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

“Throughout the pilot programme we have demonstrated how we can successfully empower and support the family to broker relationships, work through issues together and make safe decisions and plans so that children going into the care of the local authority is the last resort.

“We have worked with families facing a wide range of issues to move forward positively and have also been able to put extra support in place where we can or signpost them to other organisations for help.

“I am delighted that foundations we have helped put in place will now be built upon moving forward so that we play an important role in empowering families to find a solution that enables more young people to grow into adulthood safely and with family support.”

Cllr John Whitby, Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Care, Learning and Skills at Derby City Council, added: “The Family Group Conferencing approach reflects the aims and values of both Derby City Council and Safe and Sound where children are at the centre of practice.

“We have a shared desire to empower and enable families to find solutions, make changes, build resilience and, most of all, to remain together.

“The work undertaken initially in Leeds and now in Derby has shown that, through building relationships with professionals who support and guide through this process, families can and do achieve this.”

Among the families supported through the pilot Family Group Conferencing programme is a couple with seven children.  On discovering that she had a terminal illness, the mother knew her partner could not cope. By bringing the four grown up children around the table, plans were progressed for the younger ones to be looked after rather than going into care.

Another mother with a young son was facing an ongoing alcohol misuse issues.  Through the Family Group Conference she was empowered to admit the extent of her challenges and to ask for help and support from her wider family which has ensured the safety and care of her son.

For more information about Safe and Sound and how to support the work it does, please visit https://safeandsoundgroup.org.uk/