Creating strong communities using innovation

Featured article - 10 April 2018
By Steve Kay, Director of Children’s Services at North East Lincolnshire Council

Head-shot of the author, Steve Kay, Director of Children’s Services at North East Lincolnshire Council

At the heart of our work has been prioritising our relationships in everything that we do as leaders, managers, practitioners and partners

Steve Kay

Here in North East Lincolnshire, we are adopting something called ‘Creating Strong Communities’. We’ve been able to do this because the Children Social Care Innovation programme has enabled us to accelerate our approach and has allowed us to introduce and embed our framework for practice for our work with children and families.

This model has four distinct elements, which we have sought to combine into a single model of practice; signs of safety, restorative practice, Family Group Conferencing and outcomes based accountability. At the heart of our work has been prioritising the relationship context in everything that we do as leaders, managers, practitioners and partners. It has also been about about recognising that traditional service-centric or purely organisationally-focused solutions are not what is needed to most effectively support and enable families.

Working with families

Coupled with this work, we have shifted our model of practice within Children Centres, building on the excellent work undertaken there and after much dialogue with families we moved the model to 0-19+, rather than the traditional 0-5 focus. This work continues, but we are also able to offer focused, inter-agency support to the wider family unit. In addition, working with our partners, we have been able to introduce early intervention policing teams, based within two of our communities of highest need. Policing teams totally focused on early help, working within our family hub structures.

In addition, we have also recognised that sometimes women who were at their most vulnerable were activity seeking to avoid any support from services, due to previous experiences. As a result, we have established north east Lincolnshire PAUSE programme, working with PAUSE nationally. We are now able to offer, intensive and assertive outreach support o vulnerable women at risk of repeat removal.

Over the last few years, we have seen some positive progress as part of the development of this work. This includes a 50% reduction in numbers of children on child protection plans, 75% reduction in re-referrals and an 18% reduction in numbers of children in need. As a result of the introduction of a robust family group conferencing model, where we seek the solutions to issues within the family and extended family network, we have seen outcomes improve. An independent cost benefit analysis has demonstrated that for every £1 spent our family group conferences yield a saving of £18.20. 88%of colleagues stated that they have used restorative practice, the prioritisation of relationships at all levels, to implement effective change.

Together for Childhood

As part of the next phase of our work and further development of our model, we have entered into a long term partnership with the NSPCC as one of four ‘Together for Childhood’ area. This sees an increased focus on community engagement, shifting the balances yet further. We are also interested in the developments and further understanding of adverse childhood experiences and trauma informed care, at all levels of the system. Watch this space for more on this.

It was lovely for our staff and partners to have their work recognised recently by winning an award at the local Government Chronicle Awards. Things like that are a real shot in the arm for practitioners who work every single day trying to make a difference, with children and families who are in often difficult circumstances.

Ever-changing system

All of this said, it has not been and is not, plain sailing. The environment in which we work is ever changing, resources are limited and the challenges come thick and fast. It is often difficult to maintain, develop and sometimes repair relationships and align resources and approach across a system that is ever changing. That doesn’t mean to say that it is not always worthwhile.

It is ever more important that we continue to seek to collaborate, prioritise the relationship climate at all levels and remember always that it doesn’t matter (to a small degree) what the policy shifts are, who is deemed to be responsible for this or that – as public servants our commitment to children and families remains the same. If children and families are the anchor point of any emerging place-based approach, then this is being built upon solid foundations.

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