Sandwell MBC was experiencing longstanding difficulty in improving its children’s services, with a high staff turnover and a requirement to save 24% of its budget. The service was stuck in a vicious cycle of over-promising and under- delivering, coming out of intervention only to go back in again. Over 11 years, the service had been overseen by nine different directors of children’s services and had been subject to three periods of intervention. By 2012 there was an acceptance that something new was needed – and a willingness to try a different approach that could break the cycle of failure and deliver sustainable improvement.
"Both social workers and managers reported that they felt the service was in a much better place and huge improvement from last year…Partners viewed ‘child protection services as being the best for a long time."
What we did
iMPOWER was commissioned as the children’s services strategic partner with three main requirements.
- Establishing an effective service, meeting OFSTED requirements and staying ‘ahead of the curve’ in terms of nationally acceptable performance.
- Having a permanent, stable workforce in place and performance framework to embed improvement.
- Establishing effective financial management and achieving a balanced budget, with 24% savings over three years.
We adopted a collaborative approach with children’s services, focussing on long-term transformation rather than ‘quick fixes’ in response to inspections. Outcomes and risks were shared within the partnership, and the team jointly owned the issues and improvement activity with the client.
The transformation approach was based on the following.
- Developing leadership: including supplying a new Director of Children’s Services and providing leadership coaching to the senior team.
- Developing people: creating an environment that both supports and challenges people to give of their best and to achieve the outcomes necessary.
- A ‘whole systems’ approach to children’s transformation: based around the ‘child’s journey’, initially aimed at delivering the current improvement plan and short-term savings, and then transforming the service.
iMPOWER supported the service in five areas that we expected to have the greatest impact on performance.
Redesigning the social care service: reducing the significant number of handoffs within the child’s journey to ensure that children experienced a single social worker until permanence; a reduction in workload in social care; an end to duplicated assessment and the introduction of a new ‘single assessment’; movement of care management from a central service to a locality model.
Creating a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH): strong partnership governance; multi-agency information sharing, decision making for assessment for referrals; new screening process for domestic violence; improved timeliness for child protection conferences; clear performance framework.
Developing an enhanced Early Help (/Intervention) strategy and offer: agreeing a multi-agency strategy; shifting resources from social care services upstream; creating multi-agency locality-based teams and professional networks linked to ‘consultant’ social workers; supporting practitioners to hold cases not meeting the thresholds for social care; commissioning services based on need and return on investment.
Recruitment and retention: recruitment of service and senior managers in line with the revised service structures; design and development of a learning and development gateway, a mechanism for guidance, support and career progression.
Creating an effective performance framework: realigning performance measures to provide management information on the quality of the child’s journey and other KPIs (such as finance and retention); creating quality assurance processes to ensure practice was effectively assessed and learning impacted staff behaviours.
Although the engagement has not yet been completed, the partnership approach has already delivered a number of key benefits in line with the initial aims of the programme.
- a reduction in inappropriate demand for social care services: CiN cases reduced by 30%, the numbers of children in care have reduced by nearly 10% and Sandwell now has the lowest re-referral rate in the country (9%)
- a reshaped three year budget incorporating a 20% saving: based on reductions in placement costs, social care workload and agency staffing (£4m spend reduction)
- a dramatic decrease in annual staff turnover (exceeding the initial target of 15%), and a new, permanent senior management team in place
- clear improvements in the child’s journey: fewer handoffs within the system, and better timeliness of assessments (e.g. timeliness of initial child protection conferences increased 25%)
An independent review and report by the Department for Education also highlighted the following outcomes.
- ‘Both social workers and managers reported that they felt the service was in a much better place and huge improvement from last year’.
- Team managers had worked with iMPOWER on the redesign of the service and felt ownership for change.
- Reorganisation, ‘front door’ & MASH changes were viewed unanimously positively, with acknowledgement of work still to do.
- Partners viewed ‘child protection services as being the best for a long time’.
iMPOWER is a values led consultancy dedicated to the reform of the public sector.