Putting care at the core

5th March 2004 at 00:00
The death of a toddler in Brighton spurred the council to merge its education and social care services two years ago.

Four-year-old John Smith died in December 1999 after being abused by his would-be adoptive parents, Simon and Michelle McWilliam, who were jailed for eight years.

In 2002, Brighton and Hove city council created the children, families and schools (CFS) department. This year it will set up a children's trust incorporating the health department as well.

David Hawker, head of CFS, said: "Feelings are still raw here about John Smith. It's very unlikely that a situation like that would happen now.

Things are tighter."

The council backed the changes because the number of children in care in Brighton was twice the national average, and levels of drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and mental health problems were also high.

Area teams of social workers, teachers and health workers meet each month to brainstorm ways of tackling problems in schools. They co-operate to combat poverty and teenage pregnancy and to raise educational standards among adults.

Miranda Wharam, who manages social workers on the children's disability team, said: "It makes sense to work with the schools. They see the children more than us. They might notice if a pupil is coming in inadequately clothed or hungry."

CFS also oversees the teenage pregnancy strategy, which helps girls to remain in education by paying for their childcare. Girls are encouraged to go back into the classroom to talk about their experience of having a baby.

Pat Hawkes, the chair of the CFS committee, which advises the department, said: "Before the merger, pregnancy prevention work was happening in a piecemeal way. Now it's more co-ordinated."

CFS also runs the authority's extended-schools programme in which schools offer services outside their usual timetable. Last month, the Government invested pound;225,000 in Brighton and Hove's programme.

Carlton Hill primary has extended its community room and runs ICT and English language classes for adults as well as a course which trains parents to become classroom assistants.

Headteacher Phil Smith said: "We're in the middle of a very poor area, and the children in this community won't succeed unless the community is succeeding."

There is also pupil counselling twice a week for 25 children, 80 per cent of whom referred themselves.

Tamsen Beer, a Year 4 teacher at Carlton Hill, said: "Since the scheme started I've seen children who used to go off like firecrackers back off and talk to a teacher before using their fists."

This holistic approach to education seems to be taking root. At Hove Park secondary school, headteacher Tim Barclay has set up mentoring classes three times a week so that staff can get to know children better.

He said: "The climate in Brighton and Hove is very positively about dealing with the whole child. Because of the mentoring, I know how many carers a pupil has, and when their parents are out of the country, or which pupils are coping with feuding families."

Mikki Harman, 12, one of the youngsters Mr Barclay mentors, said: "I normally can't talk to teachers, but I talk to Mr Barclay about bullying, or if I think a teacher's been rude to me."

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