Love, social care, co-production

Featured article - 16 March 2020
By Ryan Wise, Practice Development Manager, SCIE

Love, social care, co-production

I eagerly anticipated attending Relationships making the difference: Love Shows Up on Valentine's Day. I have had the privilege of attending previous events where I have learnt from relational activists in the borough so I knew it was going to be special. As I sat on the floor playing with heart shaped confetti feeling relaxed and safe; I heard multiple activists share their stories of love, kindness and connection. Through poem, spoken word and story, people of all backgrounds explored their thoughts and feelings in relation to love. There were people I had not met but interacted with in the social work Twittersphere. People who have different views to me which I worried would lead to me feeling a little anxious. But there was something unique about the space created, there was a celebration of difference and an appreciation of the complicated nature of our lives. The sense that we are all equal, all human who don't always get things right.

  • SCIE's social work resources
  • https://www.scie.org.uk/social-work

We are biologically hardwired to connect and care. I didn't know most of the people in the room very well but I felt connected to a community. When we saw or heard emotion, others upset or overwhelmed at points during the day there was a sense of containment and protection. The context of support, care and compassion was clear to see in how the room supported one another to explore and reflect. The creation of a context like this has taken time and trust; those in the room had built up relationships with those from Camden, there was a mutual understanding and trust in those guardians creating such a unique environment. The event had everything! Singing, rap, videos, activities, meeting new people, conversations, presentations and movement. At times you could hear a pin drop and at times your ears were ringing with laughter and applause. The overall sense of the day was coming together to be human recognising our vulnerabilities and our strengths.

We heard how an event like this being hosted by a council was fresh, different, creative. An event hosted by citizens who live and work in Camden; conversations between those who hold power and those who have experienced feeling powerless in the context of adults and children social care. Why was it novel for love to show up in a council? Well we explored the reality of public services as cold and procedural; detached from providing what people need and want, due to a maintenance of the status quo in serving a dysfunctional system. Camden are disrupting this so-called truth; connecting back to what it is to be human in considering love through a number of different lenses:

  • Love and connection
  • Love in practice
  • Love in action
  • Love and empathy
  • Friends and purpose
  • Love and inclusion.

This event was for me a shining light in exploring how we can get back on track. We all know we have deviated as across both adults and children's social care as connection, relationships and compassion should be our DNA but the system that has evolved does not support or allow for this. Getting back on track as Camden have done has an impact. Citizens have a voice where decisions are made in partnership and Camden and others like Wigan can cite metrics to evidence clear impact. But it is not always about measures and evidence. Sometimes it is about doing what is right.

From taking in Camden's approach I have learnt it takes time. This is something that doesn't develop by just stating your vision. This is about taking positive steps to change culture. As a society we are perhaps moving in a particular direction, national bodies are advocating for a different type of service for example being more person centred, strengths based and collaborative. Organisations and citizens across different spaces might be using different language or terminology but there exists the same thread of connection, kindness and being more led by the experiences and voices of citizens.

It is not surprising Camden started with values. Here at SCIE we are led by our values and work with organisations to explore what is important to them and their citizens before helping with support to take a shared approach to action.

One of Camden's values, 'the co-construction of services as a force for change' chimed with some of the work I have been involved with at SCIE. I have personally learnt more about co-production and have been thinking with colleagues and organisations of how co-production features in the work of children's social care services. Spending time with activists at Camden and with colleagues at SCIE has helped me think about co-production as being connected to values of partnership, equality and proactive steps to explore power and a sharing of skills and perspectives. I have realised not only does one have to explore their own relationship with power by thinking about their own identity and attitudes towards oppression and justice. But alongside this, colleagues at Camden have helped me think about the importance of also considering love, kindness and compassion.

This may seem silly to say as perhaps this is quite obvious but I think organisations and leaders can become focused on power; creating platforms and opportunities for citizens and staff to come together but often this inadvertently become mechanical. There can be such a strong focus on disrupting power and providing spaces to do this it can become disconnected from emotion.

In working to co-construct in the context of children's and adult's social care there appears to be a shift in valuing the importance of this being a priority. There is a recognition that those who experience services are best placed to shape and voice how they should be delivered. So what we see is more Local Authorities taking steps to provide opportunities for citizens to do this. SCIE have facilitated spaces with leaders the opportunity to reflect on power and their own relationship with their professional identity to do this effectively. But what I have started to hypothesise is that this is only one strand of a conversation needed to enter into a different relationship with the community and with citizens. If we are not talking about what it is to be human, to connect, to care; that we are at our hearts compassionate creatures then there remains the risk that deconstructing power and identity does not go far enough. To enter into a new social contract with our communities and citizens, not only do we have to explore power but love has to show up and be a part of it our conversations and our self-reflective journeys.

When we think about leadership, we admire and celebrate leaders who are becoming more ethical in their approaches where they look to disrupt dominant discourses of where power has normally been held. Co-production is both value and an action; it allows for a positive change in how services are delivered and designed. Leaders who advocate for co-production and take action are willing to explore their own and the system's interactions with power. But does this go far enough? How can we talk about power and equality; without talking about fundamental principles of what it is to be human. If we strip back all of the language, titles, services, layers of process and ultimately the system; what are we left with? We are left with people. People who have different backgrounds, experiences, opportunities. What is the one thing that connects us all, our humanity and our inherent nature to want to show love, compassion and kindness.

For love not to be a part of our conversations and day to day activities in the context of public services is fundamentally contradictory to who we are as people. Public services by design are systems to enable and show love for fellow humans and citizens; for love to be taken off the table and replaced by a focus on performance, targets and metrics is bizarre and troubling truth in our society. Yet events like this one show the readiness and optimism that change is coming.

SCIE were happy to support with films created on the day by Fizzi Events

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