WORK is getting underway in Dorset on what could be a £4.3million pathfinder programme to help support families looking after a relative.

The authority is one of just three helping to develop a new programme which may eventually be rolled out nationally. It aims to keep children in need of care being supported to stay within their family, although not necessarily with immediate family.

Executive director of children’s social services Theresa Leavy said Dorset was chosen by the Department of Education for the pilot because it is already doing some of the work and will now put new practices into place on a ‘test and learn’ basis.

The project might lead to developing, or enhancing, some roles within social services with better training for family support workers who are not qualified in the same way as social workers are.

Corporate director for care and protection, Paul Dempsey, told councillors that the Families First Children Pathfinder project was based around the concept of supporting families and unlocking their potential in caring for their own kin.

“It’s fantastic that DfE selected us without us asking or bidding to be selected,” said Mr Dempsey.

He said that the strategy involved developing a multi-disciplinary family help service; establishing a multi-agency child protection team and putting love, good relationships and a stable home at the heart of being a child in care.

So far Dorset has received £200,000 seed funding for the project with further payments to come based on a costed plan submitted by the Council – with the main work expected to get underway towards the end of November, assuming the bid is successful.

At this stage Dorset has asked for a further £1.8million in this financial year, with another £2.3m for 24/25 – although the authority says the money may not be enough to undertake all of the changes hoped for under the pathfinder programme.

Some of the money will be passed to the police and health to assist their work with the programme; some to pay for additional Family Help and Child Protection places and to enhance learning and development work for staff.

Executive director for children’s services, Theresa Leavy, said it was acknowledged by Government for the pathfinder project funding is inadequate, but she told councillors that her teams would do the best they could with the resources available.

“It is absolutely obvious, when you look at the figures, that the cheapest, most effective, best outcome way, is to keep children within their extended families. It’s a no brainer,” she said.