The County Council has officially launched a ground-breaking partnership to safeguard vulnerable children and young people.
The partnership has an additional focus on those being exploited, at risk through domestic abuse or who go missing.
The multi-agency screening team, which has been operating since 2014, is keen to test out innovative approaches and brings together staff from the council's children's social care and prevention services, North Yorkshire Police and health workers from Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust.
The official launch today (3 April) marks an expansion of the team with a new senior social care manager to oversee information and intelligence from the police and five additional police officers. They will support children and families in need with even greater focus and more effective safeguarding as a result.
The multi-agency team screens every case received within 24 hours of contact being made, reviewing the dangers and strengths within a family or wider community. It means that any concerns or referrals regarding children, be they from individuals, schools, GPs, health providers, police or social care, will have one point of contact. Referrers and families are reassured that their worries are being taken forward by the right people with immediate effect.
The team meets every morning to review cases, to share information rapidly and make targeted decisions to ensure children, young people and families receive the right service at the right time through necessary and proportionate interventions by local agencies.
The work of the multi-agency team has already proved highly effective in targeting support and preventing cases escalating to children being at risk of significant harm. While the number of referrals has increased markedly, numbers of looked after children have fallen to the lowest for six years and in contrast to national trends.
"We no longer have to think, 'where should this alert or call for help go?'," said Pete Dwyer, North Yorkshire's Director of the Children and Young People's Service who launched the multi-agency screening team today, along with Elaine Wylie, deputy chair of the North Yorkshire Safeguarding Board and Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Phil Cain from North Yorkshire Police.
"We have one point of contact with a team that can share expertise across agencies and knowledge of families, of missing children and young people, of any developments in exploitation in local areas, of known histories of domestic abuse.
"It means that all the agencies, including schools, that need to know of concerns about a child or young person, are alerted with speed so that intervention and support can be highly targeted. The team is proving powerful in getting the right help to children and young people and ensuring the best outcomes for them and their families. We believe this is a highly effective way of addressing a national priority, particularly in the protection of exploited and trafficked children."
The work of the team has also attracted national recognition.
The Department for Education has made North Yorkshire a Partner in Practice to work alongside other authorities to share innovation, such as that demonstrated by the multi-agency screening team, as well as best practice in its wider prevention initiatives and social work.
According to MP Edward Timpson, Minister of State, North Yorkshire is a "leading light in the design of services for vulnerable children".
The team has become a powerful example of investing in the right kind of services to bring about savings overall. Increasing and integrating prevention services to reduce the numbers of children and young people going through more costly systems has already saved the County Council close to £5 million.
What's more, the multi-agency screening team was named a winner recently at the Local Government Chronicle awards for its partnership work. Judges praised the team for its effectiveness in reducing acute admissions to children's social care.
T/ACC Cain added: "The best way to safeguard vulnerable people is for agencies to work together, and that's exactly what we are doing in North Yorkshire. The flow of information between the police and children's services has vastly improved since the team began work, resulting in more children being protected and supported in the right way. The expansion of the team will help improve this further. We are also delighted that the team's work has been recognised with a national award."