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In this blog post, Dr Ruta Buivydaite and Dulcie Irving discuss their evaluation of Oxfordshire County Council's new child safeguarding approach, Family Solutions Plus. Early results show improved outcomes, though achieving some goals will take more time.

Father and toddler daughter meeting with a social worker

Child safeguarding services in the United Kingdom step in when children face serious risks to their emotional or physical wellbeing.  Tough times like economic downturns can significantly worsen children's living conditions and the need for these services.

However, there’s limited research guiding best practices, so identifying the most effective ways to support families and ensure children's safety remains a pressing question.

In November 2020 Oxfordshire County Council adopted a new approach called Family Solutions Plus (FSP) to improve child safeguarding. FSP aims to support the whole family, not just the child, and keep children safely at home.

What is Family Solutions Plus?

Initially developed by Hertfordshire County Council, FSP aims to offer a new and more effective approach to keeping children safe. Instead of just focusing on the child, it looks at the big picture – helping the entire family. Its goal is to make the whole system better so fewer children need to be placed in foster care and more can stay – safely – with their families.

FSP has four main components: The four elements of FSP laid out in  a circle

  •  Whole family care to support families holistically
    Professionals who specialise in domestic abuse, substance misuse, and mental health problems are integrated into social care teams to provide tailored support for families.
  • Strengths-based approach to engage families in positive change
    Social workers are trained in ‘motivational interviewing’, a technique that helps build a collaborative relationship between social workers and families, encouraging openness and willingness to work towards positive changes.
  • Multi-disciplinary working to increase collaboration and care coordination between agencies
    Regular meetings are held that bring together social care teams and other services involved with a family (like education, health, and police). These discussions focus on the progress of each case, planning next steps, and ensuring all professionals are aligned in their approach to support the family effectively.
  • Reducing bureaucracy to decrease the burden of workload on social workers
    A centralised digital tool is used to record, report, and coordinate care plans and services provided to families. This tool reduces the administrative burden on staff, allowing them more time to work directly with families, and improves information sharing among all involved professionals, ensuring everyone is up-to-date and can contribute effectively to the family's support plan.

But does FSP actually make a difference?

To find out, we conducted a ‘mixed-methods evaluation’, supported by NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Oxford and Thames Valley. This approach blends detailed analysis with direct feedback to gauge FSP's effectiveness.

Working with Oxfordshire County Council this evaluation included:

  • Quantitative analysis: We examined data for over 500 children in safeguarding services to assess the program's impact on ‘key outcomes’ – things like decreased time spent in services, or reductions in the number of care plans needed.
  • Qualitative insights: To get a complete picture, we also interviewed social workers and parents. These conversations provide a deeper understanding of FSP's real-world effects.

By integrating these methods, our evaluation gave us a comprehensive view of how FSP performs, combining hard data with personal experiences to measure its success.

What did we find?

  • Children who were under FSP spent less time in services and needed fewer care plans over time compared to children before FSP was introduced. This is despite facing more risks to begin with.
  • FSP's team-based approach, underpinned by motivational interviewing, was highly valued for its collaborative nature by social workers and parents alike.
  • Some parents wanted more consistency in their relationship with social workers. Others wished adult practitioners could provide longer-term support.
  • The number of children entering foster care has not yet dropped under FSP. But early data shows a steady decrease over time as FSP continues.

I just felt completely listened to, supported, not judged. The suggestions that she [domestic abuse worker] gave with certain things were really, really helpful. It was a lot of things I could pass on to my daughter. We worked a lot on confidence and, and being able to say no, and self-worth. - Parent

What does this mean?

The results we have so far indicate FSP provides a better experience for families and children compared to previous approaches. Workers and parents both really welcomed the increased focus on supporting the whole family.

I feel we are really able to offer a better, more holistic service to families, and that, that certainly makes my job satisfaction higher. - Social Worker

There is also early evidence that FSP is associated with improved outcomes like less time spent in the system. However, some goals like reducing foster care admissions are taking more time to achieve.

Practically speaking, Oxfordshire County Council is already using these findings to further improve FSP. For example, they are directly addressing one of our findings by proactively working to increase adult practitioner involvement earlier on.

The next steps for this work include looking at the impact on partner agencies like police and healthcare, and, importantly, we also want to capture the voices of the children these services aim to protect.

Most importantly, this evaluation helps build evidence on how to create effective systems that truly support families and children in need, which other councils and agencies across the country can build on for their own contexts.

Read more in scientific publications

Buivydaite, R., Tsiachristas, A., Thomas, S., Farncombe, H., Perera-Salazar, R., Fitzpatrick, R., & Vincent, C. (2022). Understanding the impact of a new approach to the safeguarding of children at risk: An evaluation protocol. International Journal of Integrated Care22(4).

Buivydaite, R., Morgan, M., Irving, D., Carter, J., Farncombe, H., & Vincent, C. (2023). Staff experience of a new approach to family safeguarding in Oxfordshire Children's Social Care Services. Child & Family Social Work.

Irving, D., Buivydaite, R., Tsiachristas, A., Thomas, S., Farncombe, H., Perera‐Salazar, R., & Vincent, C. (2024). The impact of a new approach to family safeguarding in social care: Initial findings from an analysis of routine data. Child & Family Social Work.


Dr Ruta Buivydaite is a Research Associate at Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology. Her research interests include system-level improvements and interventions. She completed her PhD at Oxford in 2019, developing policy changes to improve healthcare access for families raising children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Lithuania.

Dulcie Irving is a Research Assistant at Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology. She has an MSc in Experimental Psychology from Bristol and an MSc in Applied Clinical Psychology from Bath. Her research focuses on how healthcare professionals manage risk under pressure.

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