EXTRA social work staff are being recruited for a Dorset Council pilot project to improve ways of supporting families.

The project, one of three pathfinder programmes in the country, aims to make better use of wider family members in caring for children who may no longer be able to live with their parents.

The Government has given Dorset almost £5 million over a two-year period to run the project, working with health, education and police colleague to support families.

Dorset Council social work and youth work staff will be briefed on the Family First project between now and the end of March with some staff already ear-marked for new roles. At the same time what is described as a ’limited’ recruitment programme is being launched to fill some of the new roles.

The council’s People and Health Overview committee heard on Tuesday that interest in the new way of working, both inside and outside of the council, was high, ready for the launch of the scheme in early April.

Paul Dempsey, corporate director for care and protection, said he was as confident as he could be that staff recruited to the programme would be permanent positions, beyond the two-year period of Department of Health funding.

Dorchester councillor Stella Jones said that recruiting and retaining staff remained her worry although she welcomed the project and the concepts behind it.

Mr Dempsey said that the council’s reputation for innovative work, and an  outstanding Ofsted inspection report, left him confident in attracting the right staff to the new posts.

Executive director of children’s social services, Theresa Leavy, has previously said that Dorset was chosen by the Department of Education for the pilot because it is already doing some of the work and will now put new practices into place on a ‘test and learn’ basis: These include family conferences, with wider family members, to work up solutions to keep children within the family, if not with parents, or if with parents, with additional support.

Portfolio holder Cllr Byron Quayle said children’s services would continue to work with all partners, including the voluntary sector, to maintain the project beyond the two-year pilot stage, and ought to be in a good position to achieve further funding because of its initial involvement.