Making an early strike on crime

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Lancashire County Council says its new Early Action Response service aims to “nip problems in the bud before they escalate into crises”.

The joint project with Lancashire Police will create two teams with the equivalent of 27 full-time staff, most of whom will be social workers.

Initially they will help the most vulnerable children, adults and families in Preston and Burnley.

These could be people who are struggling to cope with issues like domestic abuse, youth offending or mental health concerns.

The principle of the pilot scheme is that early responses to crisis calls, coupled with intensive support, can prevent problems escalating to the point where harm becomes ‘entrenched’.

This then avoids the need for long-term or more serious interventions, which come at a greater cost to society.

The council’s community safety manager Mel Ormisher will lead the service, which will be funded by £1m of County Hall resources for the next three years and a £3m contribution from Lancashire Police.

She says: “When we look at current demand it’s quite clear that both ourselves and the police are experiencing increasingly a rising demand in calls for service.

“For police this is around calls for concern, which might be where people have gone missing, children and vulnerable adults, relating to Child Sex Exploitation and so forth, and also where there are mental health implications for service users.

“In terms of children and social care, undoubtedly the number of children in need are rising at an increasing rate.”

Lancashire Police recorded 49,000 ‘early action’ incidents - involving concerns for safety, missing or vulnerable people and mental health issues - between October 1, 2012 and September 31, 2013.

This equates to nearly 134 per day.

The area of highest demand was Preston, which accounted for 15 per cent of incidents.

The peak time for these incidents was mid to late afternoon up until midnight, with Friday and Saturday the busiest periods.

There has also been a sharp rise in referrals to children’s social care, with 1,760 per month – a near 50 per cent increase on 2012/13.

Mel believes the scheme will address the need for better out of hours support and complement existing initiatives like Edge of Care and Connect 4 Life.

She says: “I think it’s fair to say that most of these services at the moment operate within core hours, so they are there for that day to day, 9-5 activity.

“The proposal is that we develop a targeted response that bridges that gap between core services that are in place at the moment and out of hours.

“When we look at the calls for service that go into the constabulary, these are happening at times when our services aren’t there.

“The police will be attending a property, a family, a vulnerable household, and obviously they will do the best that they can do, but undoubtedly these calls still come through to ourselves for a response at a later time.

“By putting our services in this targeted way we can begin to address that gap and ensure we get the best response at the time when a call is made.”

Lancashire Police have a ‘Graded Response’ policy, which establishes the time frame within which officers must respond to a crisis and the type of response required.

Is is thought the teams will join officers on Grade 3 calls, where a response is planned within 48 hours of an incident being reported, and at Grade 2, where a response is necessary within an hour.

Mel says: “I think the key thing is that they can begin to deliver these rapid interventions at the time when they attend.

“They can begin that assessment and they can begin to link people into the services that they need, at a more realistic time, and we know the outcomes are much better when we’re able to do that.

“They would be conducting joint visits with police officers in the initial instance, but I think it’s also important to say they would then retain that intensive case working with that individual or family for a defined period of time, probably around six weeks.

“This will make sure we are really bringing these people away from that point of crisis and helping them into the effective services that they need.”