National Online Learning Event 2022

On 14-15 June 2022, over 600 representatives from local authorities, central government, VCSE, and health across the UK attended the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children National Online Learning Event. Dawn Taylor, Deputy Director for Innovation, Learning and Digital at DfE and Minister Quince, Minister for Children and Families, opened the event.

The event was a key opportunity to learn more about the three Strengthening Families, Protecting Children models and their effectiveness. The three models are No Wrong Door, Family Valued and Family Safeguarding, and we heard from the Innovator authorities behind each of the models (North Yorkshire, Leeds and Hertfordshire), as well as from some of the authorities who are successfully adopting the models.

Welcome and introduction

Warm welcome and introduction

Dawn Taylor, Deputy Director for Innovation, Learning and Digital at DfE and Minister Quince, Minister for Children and Families, launched the event on Tuesday 14th June 2022, with a warm welcome and introduction to all those taking part.

Event sessions: Tuesday 14 June 2022

On Tuesday 14 June 2022, innovators and adopters shared an introduction to the key features and principles of each of their models and insights into the impact it is having.

Event sessions: Wednesday 15 June 2022

On Wednesday, 15 June 2022, the event focused on insights from across the SFPC programme about effective support for families. We heard from both innovator and adopter authorities sharing their experiences on several cross programme themes:

Closing Sessions

In discussion: Josh MacAlister and Isabelle Trowler

For our closing session, we heard thoughts from Josh MacAlister, the Chair of The Independent Review of Children's Social Care and Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, on the SFPC programme and its place within the context of the Care Review recommendations.

Congratulations and a special thank you to everyone who generously gave their time and ideas and worked tremendously hard to make this important event a huge success. Look out for further exploration of key themes emerging from these discussions in the next issue of the Strengthening Families Learning Journal, due to be published in Autumn 2022.

If you want to share your thoughts on the event or any of the sessions, please use the hashtag #SFPCLearningEvent.

  • Transcript - In discussion: Josh MacAlister and Isabelle Trowler Open

    This is an edited transcript of a conversation held on Wednesday 15 June 2022, Josh MacAlister, the Chair of The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families met to talk about the Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme and the recommendations of the Independent Care Review. Below is an edited version of their conversation:

    Isabelle Trowler: We are now heading for the second significant policy moment for children and families, since I was appointed chief social worker in 2013. The first one was Putting Children First which was published in 2016, and we are now looking towards the end of 2022 for a new strategy for children's social care.

    Since 2017, we've seen fewer looked after children coming into the system and a corresponding increase in the percentage of authorities that are now good or outstanding. All of this creates the conditions for strong value-led practice, which is very much focused on family preservation and the importance of leadership and partnership and relationships, winning hearts and minds being brave.

    The Strengthening Families Programme is a culmination of years of work from Hertfordshire's Family Safeguarding, Leeds’ Family Valued and North Yorkshire’s No Wrong Door innovations. The core of the programme is about practice - what really happens between practitioners and families when we move into that private space of family life, how people work alongside families and create meaningful change and growth for those families and their children. That's always been at the heart of the Strengthening Families programme, and it's been a tremendous journey.

    We now need to make some big decisions for national policy, taking stock of the care review, national panel review that focused on the murders of Arthur and Starr, the CMA report - looking at the placements market, but also the need for alignment with schools, white paper and special educational needs.

    Josh McAllister: Firstly, thank you for inviting me to talk about the review and the links to all of the fantastic work from Hertfordshire’s Family Safeguarding, Leeds’ Family Valued and North Yorkshire’s No Wrong Door approach which has been reflected in the review.

    The core message of the review is that we need a firm reset of children's social care. We need to tilt the system towards being focused on getting alongside and around families to help them and reclaiming this idea of ‘help’ within children's social care.

    When we need care for children, we need to make it obsessed with connecting children to lifelong loving relationships, and people around them who are going to stick with them for life. We recognise this will be a challenge to business as usual, because this type of work is organic, it's messy, it's relational. It's about intimate stuff - people's lives and their families, not the normal territory of services and the public sector.

    The reset is a five-year reform programme involving major reforms and investment. We should bring together Early Help and Child in Need work and return to the foundational principle of Section 17 of the Children Act. We can do this by getting more professionals into that work, not making it just an exclusive social work activity.

    There is lots of commonality with Hertfordshire's Family Safeguarding Model that helped shape the thinking on having a more expert-driven child protection response, which links to the new approach to family help. If we take a broader, more help-focused approach to families raising their children in adversity, we also need not lose sight of child protection.

    The big set of recommendations suggests giving more legal and financial confidence to local authorities to back family led solutions. There are lots of links here to the fantastic work of Leeds, but also Camden in their long term commitment to family group conferencing and other methods of family group decision making.

    For children who need to be in care, we need to have the homes available for them now. There has been a market failure, and we've got a system driven by a profit motive, which is having a distorting effect and negative impact for children. We need to boost the options for children in care so they can live in homes that are right for them. Over the long term, we need to bring local authorities together so they can plan for the types of homes children need in the future.

    We need greater ambition for the quality of life of people with care experience, and protected characteristics for their care experience should underpin this. Public bodies should have a corporate parenting duty and state five clear missions - housing, employment, education, health, and most importantly, relationships, with every young person leaving care having at least two lifelong, loving relationships in their life. Lifelong links and local authorities like North Yorkshire Council's 'Always Here' programme and Lincolnshire's 'You Say Who' programme are all about keeping lifelong living connections beyond services.

    The reset that we're calling for has been articulated because of the success of some of the projects in the children’s social care innovation programme in 2014. And because of the progress made by the Strengthening Families programme since 2019. It is eight years on from those innovations getting going, so it is now time to stop piloting stuff and start rolling these out in a big way.

    Isabelle Trowler: Which recommendations do you think are most closely aligned to the Strengthening Families Programme and what are the biggest challenges that your review throws up for the programme?

    Josh Macallister: We need a system that is capable of planning out the types of care that children need in the future, the types of residential care and foster care, and the expertise to build or recruit those homes, configure them and make sure they're available for children when they need them.  This is a massive gap in the system at the moment. There's a direct link there between No Wrong Door and the Regional Care Cooperatives. Well over 40% of local authorities do not have a sufficiency strategy published. No Wrong Door is a great example of a model of residential care, which has got a really clear purpose.  The model of No Wrong Door, and the ability through Regional Care Cooperatives to have a confident and visionary view of what homes for children in care could be, with the capability to build them, I think is really, really exciting.

    The work that started in Leeds and Hertfordshire is influential on thinking about family help and kinship. The multidisciplinary aspects of Family Help teams, allowing non-social workers to undertake some section 17 work confidently, could be transformational and help the Family Safeguarding Model go much further. The approach to eligibility for services rather than thresholds for services, and the front door of the system that Leeds implemented, which has also been rolled out in Doncaster, shows that the system can move in that direction with some confidence. There are lots and lots of links where the review has been able to make recommendations because of the work done by hundreds of people across the country since 2019.

    The work that's been happening since 2014, where people are innovating to try and change that reality, is what we call a second horizon. The danger is, does that innovation continue to prop up the same flawed approach in the future? We're at this inflection point where the promising practice that exists is used to defend the status quo because if we can innovate within a broken system, then why do we need to change the system?

    The Strengthening Families programme needs to be seen and seized as a stepping stone to a third horizon, which is the transformed system in which people want to work. All of the work done in Leeds, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire and rolled out to the other 18 local authorities has been done by creative leadership, trying to make things better within a system that works against them. So we need to design a system to work with them and take those things further.

    Isabelle Trowler: What are the implications for Strengthening Families and how do we move forwards when the impact evaluations aren't concluding until 2027?

    Josh Macallister: We've got a lot of evidence, and everything in the report takes you further on that journey to go in the same direction. You've got an advantage of being ahead of the curve if you're in the group of local authorities who are part of the programme or have the same mindset for those who are not part of this programme. There's only opportunity; it will allow you to go further and faster in making the system better for families.

    Isabelle Trowler: What do you think is going to be the most difficult thing to persuade people about in your report?

    Josh Macallister: For the government, the hardest ask is money. The Treasury gets a long queue of people saying invest to save and what we've tried to do is take a cost-benefit approach for the reforms and only look at savings that fall within children's social care. We've based it on evidence of what currently works using existing programmes to model the benefits you might see.

    The national practice framework, the practice guides and the early career framework will be challenging to agree on. Articulating what we mean by what social workers should know and be able to do will require a level of rigour. I think about the discipline they've had in Hertfordshire around the workbook as part of that model, and I think we need much, much more of that.

    The regional care cooperatives are also going to be challenging. I understand the anxiety that this might mean children are moving further away from their local patch. We have a care system at the moment where 40% of children in care are already living outside of their area, and that is a local authority led system that hasn't got the scale and capability to fix the problems that we see. Lots of this won't be easy; if it was easy, we wouldn't have had a review.

    Isabelle Trowler: What do you think people should do as individuals, teams or organisations to help make this a reality?

    Josh Macallister: I encourage people to act confidently, try out and test ahead of any national rollout. What is it you can get going on now? Suppose we have legislation introducing family network plans; we won't be able to create family network plans if there isn't the practice in the system around family group decision-making.

    You don't need to wait for central government to say family group conferencing should be standard, you can get on with that now.

    We also need to give politicians and the government the confidence to take the necessary steps. There are thoughtful people currently running large parts of the system who have got a very clear articulation of the purpose of children's social care. Getting that set out really clearly and helping ministers or people who are a bit unsure about it feel confident to take those steps will be crucial.

    Isabelle Trowler: What are the aspirations and plans to bolster improvements in recruitment and retention of social workers?

    Josh Macallister: Getting the Family Help system right and being ambitious in the next few years, we'll put more social workers into community settings, so they spend much more time working intensively with a smaller number of families. They will have colleagues they can work with who've got skills to bring to the work so that they do not have to hand their family off to another service; I think that will be crucial.

    There are practical things we need to do around professional development. Creating a five year structured career path for social workers starting their journey which takes them towards expertise. We don't leave newly qualified social workers to carry the most complex work in child protection, that is done jointly with an expert practitioner, and we support local authorities to take quicker action on agency Social Work use.

    If the work is rewarding, people will want to do it!

    Isabelle Trowler: What kind of investment is needed for recruitment and development of the early help workforce?

    Josh Macallister: We've got lots of people already working in the system, if you include all the services that are commissioned by children's social care, and professionals in adjacent public services who end up spending a lot of their time dealing with the cost of failure from children's social care. The review recommends those people are configured into teams, so you've got the right people in the right places to do the work.

    Family Help will include family support workers. We don't have any clear articulation of the knowledge and skill required for these roles so there are lots of opportunities to improve the apprenticeship route into that space. We may need a new apprenticeship standard for Family Health Practitioners. Local authorities often have access to considerable apprenticeship levy spends that could support substantial investment into that workforce.

    Isabelle Trowler: Have your recommendations been accepted?

    Josh Macallister: Government has said that this is the roadmap for where the system should go next. And that they'll produce a comprehensive and ambitious reform program by the end of the year. I really do hope that it matches the ambition that was shared with the review by practitioners, children and families.