Posts Tagged ‘children’s services’

Inspiration, and getting things done

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely sources, and so it was this week.  One of our Looked After Children acted where many others would have hesitated, and prevented a friend from making a terrible mistake.  Readers will understand if I don’t go into details as the incident involved the potential use of illegal drugs, but that was avoided by a young man who has faced his own challenges, having the strength of character to stand up for what is right.  Along with his own part in this, his foster carer and social worker can take credit for creating a positive environment to allow him to develop as well as he has. 

This time of year involves a number of conferences and events where Chief Executives and other senior leaders in Local Government gather to compare notes and learn from each other.  The conversations this year are framed by the unusual December General Election; policy and its implementation were always to the fore in the discussions.  The thing that has struck me more than anything else in my time in this appointment is the practicality and pragmatism of the Local Government sector.  Central Government, of whatever colour or tone, deal in strategy, policy and theories.  They pull metaphorical levers and switches in Whitehall and hope that they have the desired effect on the ground.  Local Government then takes the idea and makes it real, dealing with the problems and challenges along the way.  Taking a relatively uncontentious promise from the election campaign, on planting tens of millions of trees, it will be local authorities who have to source these trees, find somewhere suitable to plant them, and make sure that they survive into maturity.  It’s a details business, and one which will occupy the attention of councillors and officers long after the ministers and civil servants have moved onto their next initiative.  Having worked in both strategy and tactics, I wouldn’t have it any other way – making things real, as we do in Staffordshire County Council in so many areas, is much more rewarding when the two are connected as we are.  Have a good week.

Digitisation, and the Children’s Services Ofsted

Monday, February 11th, 2019

I’ve spent part of this weekend with the leadership and governors of Staffordshire University, where I am the Deputy Chair.  It’s a fascinating organisation, on a similar journey of modernisation to the County Council, and facing some interesting challenges.  I learn a lot from the sessions with them and from listening to the people involved, both staff and students. 

Like us, the university in on a digitisation journey, and probably ahead of us in many ways.  They have always been a leader in computer science, and Liz Barnes, the Vice Chancellor, has put huge emphasis on expanding this area, along with computer gaming and e-sports.  This last one was a fascinating example of moving quickly – it went from a concept to delivering the teaching to the first students in little over a year, making Staffs Uni one of the first in the world to offer a degree in e-sports.  We also move quickly in the County Council, but I sense that there was a little more acceptance that it would not be perfect before implementation, and I think that we could learn from that.  If the idea is right, one can keep a little capacity to making running amendments and adjustments as the idea develops.  As the famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “Better is the enemy of Good”. 

Lastly, many thanks and well done to everybody who has been involved in the OFSTED inspection of our Children’s Services over the past 2 weeks.  We will get the formal feedback in 2 weeks’ time, but the immediate debrief was a positive experience; much that was good and better was reflected to us, and those areas for improvement being known and understood.  I am hugely impressed by the inspirational manner in which everybody “turned to” and told their story to the inspection team – despite our being in the middle of a complex transformation process, everyone that they spoke to was positive about what they were doing and who they were doing it for.  People often talk glibly about leadership – as if it were the secret ingredient in a cake recipe to be added by those in the know – but there is real, quiet and effective leadership in our Children’s Service, built up over a long period.  I’m very proud of you, and a bit in admiration.

Conducting a Peer Challenge in Gloucestershire

Monday, June 18th, 2018

I spent last week in Gloucestershire as part of the Peer Challenge for the County Council. This is the sector-led improvement programme, organised by the Local Government Association (LGA), in which a group of serving politicians and officers are invited to act as critical friends to offer advice and observations on how they are doing as a local authority.

I’ve done quite a lot of visits and inspections in my previous career, and this was a variation on the theme – very constructive and at the same time, very thorough.  We will be receiving our own Peer Challenge in September and, after this last week, I’m looking forward to it. The key is being open and honest. The team are drawn from organisations which are facing similar challenges to our own, and will, if my experience is anything to go by, learn as much to take home as they offer in advice.

Gloucestershire are a similar authority to ourselves. They’ve had some problems in their Children’s Service in the past 18 months, and are working to solve them, but the background challenges of rising demand and difficulty recruiting and retaining good quality social workers are similar to ours. We had some fascinating discussions about how to achieve our aims in a constructive manner. On the positive side as something to take home to Staffordshire, their ambulance trust is doing some very interesting things with their fire service and adult social care service, with a level of integration that is highly impressive. One always learns something.

Meeting with Staffordshire MPs, and continuing the success of Building Resilient Families and Communities

Monday, February 5th, 2018

We had our quarterly meeting with Staffordshire’s MPs this week in Portcullis House in Westminster. This is our opportunity to tell them what we’re doing, and for them to tell us what is happening in the heart of Government. It is always an interesting session, with Philip Atkins, Alan White and me making up the Staffordshire County Council Team.  On this occasion, five of our 9 MPs attended in person, with the rest represented by their staff.

Not perhaps surprisingly, the conversation  turned to our Financial Strategy and the decision to raise council tax by 5.95%. Although nobody likes to raise taxes, as it’s never popular, there was universal agreement that it was the right thing to do in order to provide the services that we deliver for the most vulnerable in our society.  There remains some debate in Parliament on whether the Autumn Statement will be amended, and we will be watching it with interest to see if there is any more money for children’s services or adult social care.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, we’ve reached the logical end of our current method of meeting our MTFS, and will need a different approach to salami slicing if we are to achieve the full potential of digital initiatives and programmes such as the Children’s System, which will pull together several workstreams into one.

On that subject, we are working towards something called Earned Autonomy with our Building Resilient Families and Communities programme, and have a key set of interviews coming up. In essence, the Government’s Troubled Families programme, which has been widely criticised in the media, has been a roaring success in Staffordshire, simply because we’ve put in enormous effort and thought. The Children’s System will essentially take the learning from BRFC and apply it across the county, intervening intensively with those families who have multiple issues early enough to prevent them from spiralling into difficulty.

We think that we’ve got a good story to tell, and I hope that our London friends agree.

Improving children’s services

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

I attended a working dinner this week with a group of local authority leaders on the subject of improving children’s services. It was under Chatham House rules, so I will respect the anonymity of the comments made by the other attendees. But the conversation did make me think, and I’d value your views.

What struck me was the almost complete focus on structural solutions and on the role of individuals in senior leadership positions in transforming children’s services.  I can’t help thinking that it is leadership at all levels, along with professionalism, mutual trust and confidence, that has got us to the point in Staffordshire where we have the excellent Children’s Services that we have.

One of my aims since arriving in this role just over 2 years ago has been to align responsibility with accountability and authority.  I would be the first to acknowledge the role of leadership in success, but my experience in many appointments is that you’re only as good as the people whom you lead.

We have an ambitious programme in the Children’s System to reduce the number of Looked After Children, and to produce better outcomes for those for whom we become the corporate parent; these will require our combined efforts, whether you are a child protection social worker, a family support worker, work in a Local Support Team, or in a supporting role such as ICT, or indeed as a senior leader.  As those of us know who are involved in this complex business, there are no easy solutions. Despite that, I have confidence that we have the right people and the right plan.