How to embed an innovative way to protect children

Featured article - 17 October 2017
By Nasima Patel

Head-shot of the author, Nasima Patel

In ‘Twelve steps to heaven’, West, Richter and Shipton wrote that innovation is ‘about doing new things’. If that’s the case then it must begin with new thinking.

SCIE say in their new Future of Care report, it’s important to try out new ideas and approaches in order to give the children and families they work with, the best chance of success.

The innovation on this occasion was simply a search for a new solution to an enduring problem. In less than two years there were a number of fatal stabbings as well as a consistently high volume of referrals for domestic abuse (one data set suggesting the highest in London). A London Safeguarding Children Board-commissioned review into a small cohort of young men who had seriously harmed others and themselves in the previous years was published. Of note was that most children and young people who are involved in criminal behaviour were often known to Tier Two and Three agencies for a number of years, subject to multiple interventions, including statutory child protection services.

A number came from families where there had been numerous referrals in relation to domestic abuse. The cost of late intervention is recognised. The Early Intervention Foundation estimates this to be nearly £17 billion whilst the price on individuals, families and communities is immeasurable. It was high time to look at new approaches. After discussion we pioneered two solutions at different points in the system. The first solution is an example of improvement (‘better use of existing resources to achieve incrementally better outcomes against existing metrics’) whilst the second is innovation (‘using different resources in new ways to achieve dramatically better outcomes against new metrics’). As the Future of Care report notes, complex organisations need both approaches.

Some solutions

1. Within the youth offending service we made a shift from a traditional model that focused predominantly on changing the behaviour of young people to one which focuses on a young offender and their family approach. At the intensive end of the intervention, there is now close working with a forensic psychologist; at the same time we skilled up the prevention team to work 'whole family' to identify need robustly and earlier to ensure an appropriate response to prevent older children from entering a youth offending system at all. We are beginning to see the results of this approach in our latest performance data.

2. A public health approach to family violence. A piece of work has been started by public health colleagues to look at family violence as a potential PH issue in the same way as teenage pregnancy, that is to examine the extent of the issue locally and to come up with a strategy that identifies multiple but different interventions at different points in the system being delivered in a coordinated and evidenced way. The overall aim is to reduce violence and its damaging impact on individuals and communities over a reasonable time span. This approach needs two of the key conditions critical for innovation:

  • As much evidence of impact as possible
  • Organisational willingness to be in it for the long haul.

Knowledge Transfer- replication v adaptability

How we spread innovation is a real challenge as attempts at replication as the Future of Care report notes is particularly challenging. I am now involved in commissioning research to look at effective public health approaches to reduce violence in families and communities to give Local Authorities practical models and tools to apply and adapt to their locality.

Further Reading

West, M. A., Hirst, G., Richter, A. & Shipton, H. (2004) Twelve steps to heaven: Successfully managing change through developing innovative teams. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 13(2), 269-299.

Mark A. Bellis, Helen Lowey, Nicola Leckenby, Karen Hughes, Dominic Harrison; Adverse childhood experiences: retrospective study to determine their impact on adult health behaviours and health outcomes in a UK population, Journal of Public Health, Volume 36, Issue 1, 1 March 2014, Pages 81–91

Chowdry and Fitzsimons (2016): The Cost of Late Intervention: EIF Analysis 2016.

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