Lancashire Family Safeguarding: The story so far
By Mandy Williams, Head of Lancashire Family Safeguarding
Our Family Safeguarding journey in Lancashire began in March 2019 when Sue Williams, Hertfordshire County Council Programme Director, came to support a peer review. She advised that we could improve the way with we work with families by moving away from focusing on risk and slowing down escalating cases through the system. She challenged us to re-look at the 1989 Children Act, and told us about Family Safeguarding. In truth, Sue was leaning upon an open door, Edwina Grant, the new Executive Director for Children's Services, knew of Sue's work and has a burning ambition to do the best for Lancashire families. The time was right, and the leadership team were 'up for it'; we were engaged and open to new ways of working; and there was support from the Chief Executive, the leader of the Council, the lead member and the Council as a whole.
Sue had planted the seeds, and we began to water and fertilise them. We started to plan for investing in Early Help so that families could get help as soon as they needed it, without the need for statutory intervention. We challenged ourselves to look at our thresholds, and started to think about our practice in a different way. We were thrilled when the DfE SFPC was announced and, following further work with the national Family Safeguarding team to assess our suitability, we put in place an ambitious bid, and were awarded a place on the programme at the end of 2019.
We forged ahead in our preparations until March 2020 when COVID-19 hit, which caused us to pause for three months as we assessed the impact and focused on our day-to-day management of workers and social workers, with all our children's social care staff moved to home working. COVID-19 meant we delayed the go-live date from October 2020 to February 2021. To fully implement Family Safeguarding, we needed to consider whole system change, and so we also restructured during a pandemic, which was no mean feat.
Apart from COVID-19 and the whole scale restructure of children's services, including Early Help, what have been our challenges? Mainly the recruitment of adult workers - we were delayed by our own 'pause' and the changes taking place in Probation. It took us longer than we anticipated to bring the Family Safeguarding partners on board, as we had to take the time to explain the benefits and work our way through our new partners’ internal processes and systems, to reach the strong position we are in now, and recruitment always takes longer than you anticipate. We are the first Family Safeguarding service in the north of England, which means there was no local knowledge to build on.
The other challenge is the sheer size of Lancashire, which is the fourth largest local authority in the country, requiring us to work across many partner boundaries and with lots of different organisations. We have focused on building our partnerships with the organisations who will deliver Family Safeguarding with us, and now need to ensure everyone knows about Family Safeguarding such as schools, health visitors and school nurses - we have all been otherwise preoccupied!
We have a fabulous programme team, who have kept us on track and focused. Our learning and development team have delivered a monumental achievement in training all our staff and the work of the core systems team has meant everything was successfully in place for our go-live date.
Creating a new service remotely has meant more attendance and engagement in whole service meetings but going live in February and going into lockdown was certainly a challenge. It has been hard for new workers to join teams remotely, and inexperienced workers such as students or ASYEs (social workers in their first year of practice) find it difficult to develop without colleagues nearby to listen to or ask questions.
We are most proud of our whole approach to Lancashire Family Safeguarding. Our aim is to be strengths based, use motivational interviewing techniques, and work with and alongside staff, children and young people, families and partners in everything we do. In this way we have sought to 'live' the values of Family Safeguarding. Of course, our biggest teachers, coaches, and mentors in this have been both Sue Williams and the whole of the national Family Safeguarding team. They are outstanding in their effective balance of expectation, support, challenge, and their ability to share their expertise, and it is all delivered with warmth, humour and respect. This way of working with positive regard and being helpful extends to the wider team of Mutual Ventures and the What Works in Children’s Social Care Centre.
Participation, engagement, and co-production have been key elements of our approach to Lancashire Family Safeguarding. We want children, young people and their families to shape their own service and to be heard, as well as being part of the ongoing development of Family Safeguarding. The Child Protection Conferencing Service has worked with children, families and partners to develop strength-based child protection conferences. All recruitment has included children, young people, or people with lived experience. We are developing The Family Forum, a space for families to feedback to us about the services they have received and to shape future services. A reference group also exists for frontline staff to share their experiences. In this way, we task ourselves to work consistently with and alongside children, young people, families and partners. Our ambition is co-production and we hope Lancashire Family Safeguarding will excel in this.
The teams themselves are full of enthusiasm for Family Safeguarding and welcome the opportunity to work in a strengths-based way alongside families. They welcome the training, support and additional resources, feel supported by their managers and find Family Safeguarding aligns with their values.
Our official launch event took place on 1 March 2021, where the advantage of being online means we had over 500 attendees. We are proud of working for Lancashire Council, we are proud of the Council's response to COVID-19 which has demonstrated community and collaboration, and we are proud to celebrate the changes we are making across children's services, building on Family Safeguarding.
Looking back on our journey so far, we can see the changes to culture and practice begin with Sue's first visit. As we launch, we recognise our journey travelled and that we still have a long way to go to fully practice as Lancashire Family Safeguarding. We know we will fulfil our ambition to change the children's service system to ensure the very best for our families. The foundations are in place with good quality, well-fertilised soil. Spring sees the strong green shoots coming through and the scene is set for Lancashire Family Safeguarding to bloom.