A DRIVE to tackle startling increases in the number of children in care will see councils given funding to support families to stay together.

The pioneering approaches of North Yorkshire and Leeds City councils – which are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted – to family safeguarding are to be introduced in Darlington, Cambridgeshire and Middlesbrough to launch the government’s £84m Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme.

The funding coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Children Act, and aims to reaffirm its core principle that, where possible, children are best brought up with their parents.

Up to 20 councils where there are persistently high numbers of children being taken into care will eventually receive funding to help improve their practice, so that fewer children need to be taken into care and giving them the best chance to succeed in life.

In December, Darlington had 249 looked-after children, a rate of 110.6 children per 10,000 population, a significant increase from March last year when the rate was 95.

The council said the rise was being caused partly by the average length of time children spent in care increasing. Looked-after children born in 1992 spent an average of 29 weeks in care, but this has increased to 80 weeks for children born in 2008.

It also pointed towards strong links between levels of poverty and the stresses associated with parenting, and increasing levels of relative poverty, which are expected to rise further in the coming year.

The Leeds Family Valued scheme, which will be introduced in Darlington, will see work with the whole family unit and any support network to encourage long-term changes at home that keep children safe and working with families rather than imposing measures on them.

In Leeds, the scheme reduced the number of children on children’s services Protection Plans by nearly 50 per cent.

The North Yorkshire No Wrong Door scheme creates hubs where young people at risk of going into care get targeted support to cope with the multiple issues they face, including lack of accommodation or contact with the police. The scheme saw a 38 per cent fall in arrests of individuals involved during the first 18 months of the programme and a 57 per cent cut in accident and emergency visits.

Suzanne Joyner, Darlington Borough Council’s director of children and adult services, said: “We’re thrilled to be one of the early adopters in the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme. I’ve been impressed with the impact of the Family Valued project in Leeds and look forward to seeing it make a positive difference to the lives of families and children in Darlington.”