The Children’s Minister addresses the Pause conference as they roll out the service to 6 new areas.
Thank you David [Norgrove] for that introduction.
I’m delighted to be here this morning, and judging by the standing room only at the back, it’s a sought after event.
Having personally signed off 53 innovation programme bids, I can tell you it’s a real highlight of my job to put some faces to those impressive applications.
One of those people is, of course, Sophie [Humphreys]. You may not know this but Sophie has had quite a career leap - from Hollywood to Hackney - and for the dozens of women and families that Pause has helped, I’m sure they’ll all agree she’s made the right choice!
Without the tireless work of the Pause practitioners, especially those working on the ground, turning lives around, we wouldn’t be here celebrating the national launch of Pause. Even today, Pause has brought together a roll call of the brightest and most distinguished voices in the children’s services sector.
And I’m sure this event will be really insightful for all of you, and give you, yourselves, pause for thought about your own service delivery.
Pause and the innovation programme
Now, I actually received a preview of this film earlier in the week. Like David said, it’s brilliantly made, which given the creators, is no surprise.
It’s really important that your work is given a platform like this, showing everyone the small glimmers of hope that Pause bring to these women’s lives. Moments that would otherwise remain in the dark.
Watching it brought back memories of my time as a family law barrister in the North West, where I worked for the best part of a decade.
They are abiding memories, where in spite of many hours with the social worker and lawyers, you’d still see the same woman, time and time again in front of you, fighting to keep their baby.
That child often wouldn’t be the first, either, but the second or third. It’s a gut-wrenching process for everyone involved, and you’d think, there must be a way to do this better, for everyone.
Particularly for the child, it’s an early life experience that will affect many of them over the years, and decades, to come. So to break that cycle, we required nothing short of radical change.
We wanted bright ideas, backed by even brighter people. New ways of working.
But also that desire for change at the heart of everything you do. Whilst your bold approach might not sit quite as comfortably with everyone, it’s exactly the reason we put our faith in you.
It’s why, just 5 months after extending Hackney and funding 4 new areas, we’ve already agreed to fund a further 2, in Islington and Greenwich.
I know that the new Doncaster site had a visit from Isabelle Trowler recently, who met with the Pause team there, and was delighted to see for herself just how well the expansion was going. Hackney and Greenwich will also work with women who have only had 1 child removed, stopping that cycle of loss and despair before it goes around another 2, 3, or 4 times.
In doing so, it fulfils the core ambition of the innovation programme - to spread what works, and where possible, intervene earlier.
But we’re not here to talk about the input of DfE funding - important as that is, it’s only a small sign of your success. Your Hackney star award for innovation that the project has received is a far more important symbol of acceptance.
It’s an accolade that recognises your courageousness; to go where other services have long avoided.
The real merit lies, however, in the numbers and the stories you’ve just seen.
The 29 Hackney women who have engaged with the service; the fact that not 1 child has been removed from these women in 2 years.
And it would be remiss of me to ignore the fact, that all of this work over 7 sites, is projected to save more than £14 million over 5 years.
That’s how much we can save when more women get the mental health support they need. When more women are helped with their housing or employment
And when more women discover their full potential, free from a chaotic life. The Groundhog Day of court appearances and care orders have taught us that it’s very difficult to become someone’s superhero - to rescue them or run their lives for them.
Not only isn’t it fair, or sustainable, it quite simply doesn’t work. Every individual deserves their own autonomous and aspirational life - which is what Pause gives women the space to achieve.
Rather than relying on others - it gives them a sense of agency, and as one of the women in the film says: ‘You help me realise what I need to do.’
Family drug and alcohol courts
Luckily, this isn’t a single pocket of innovation.
It’s a cycle that Judge Nick Crichton - who I am sure, will say much more on this later on - also recognised.
I know that the removal of a 14th child was a real turning point for Nick.
Rather than accepting it as the unfortunate status quo, he decided to intervene, for the child and mother alike. For many families, drugs and alcohol form a familiar part of their narrative.
Yet until recently, there was only 1 specialist family drug and alcohol court across the country.
With Nick’s [Crichton’s] support, the Innovation Board awarded over £3 million to create a national family drug and alcohol court development unit - testing out the model in different contexts across 11 councils.
It makes sense for these incredibly effective, dedicated courts to branch out and deliver life-changing results in more areas.
The aim will be to create a sustainable, long-term funding model for future family drug and alcohol courts.
There’s other projects too.
Around the country we seeing PIPs spring up; the Early Intervention Foundation is systematically evidencing what works. And slowly, the stigma around mental health is being lifted.
It’s great to see so many councils here today; I hope the decision-makers amongst you will be inspired to commission a similar service, but in particular a Pause, within your area.
Now you’ve seen how much of a great affect it can have, I suspect it will double your determination to do so.
Far from a tunnel vision focused on pregnancy and court dates - the work of Pause trickles through to issues of welfare, housing, employment - and improves even the most unexpected areas of these women’s lives.
A problem will never be solved in isolation. If we don’t address the whole issue, then our work will make no difference.
And it’s not just the innovation programme that acknowledges this.
Pause’s appearance at the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, where Sophie and I previously crossed paths - says so much about the cross-sectional nature of the service - and that many other departments are looking to your intervention as a solution.
Making improvements for all children
There will, sadly, always be some women who aren’t able to ‘pause’ - and some children who will be on social services radar even before they are born.
For those women, and particularly those children yet to be born, we have made a number of other important changes.
The ‘Family justice review’ highlighted how long care cases were taking - an average of over 50 weeks.
The ‘Public law outline’ set a timescale of 26 weeks and the average is now below 30 weeks. This is great progress.
And as the Prime Minister outlined in a speech last week, improving the child protection system will form a key focus for this government.
Through the new Frontline initiative, the best graduate talent is being trained to intervene quickly and effectively in the lives of families - and hopefully helping hundreds of vulnerable women before they reach services like Pause.
But as we take this work even further, and continue to seek ways to improve the lives of the most vulnerable children, and women - we will have so much to learn from each other. I will need to learn from you, too.
Pause is at the forefront of something, I think, quite momentous, and I want to continue supporting you to be the norm, not the exception.
You’ve already had a profound difference on some lives.
Now is the time to spread that difference to many, many more.
Thank you very much.