Reflecting on our recent experience of virtual working with councils, health services, social workers and schools
Julian Le Grand, a professor at the London School of Economics, questioned whether councils should still provide children’s services. He said a clean break with the past might be necessary to stop the downward spiral of poor practice and management.
“Something like this is being tried in Doncaster, where an independent trust is being set up to contract with the council to provide the service,” wrote Le Grand.
However, things are rarely so black or white. Le Grand is right that for some elements of the service new delivery models might be the answer, but this is not a problem where we have to choose between a right answer and a wrong answer.
Where problems are more deep-rooted – when we are talking about the need to change culture and behaviours – then we have enough experience to know that whole systems transformation doesn’t come from moving the deck chairs around. It seems naïve to think that shifting a set of problems from one organisation to another will make problems that have developed over many years magically disappear.
In more than two decades working in the world of social care, I have yet to meet anyone who is in their job because they “fell into it”. Most people who work in the sector are not there to make a lot of money or to revel in the warm family friendly embrace of a great work-life balance. It’s not even a job that commands universal respect or delivers regular job satisfaction.
Most, if not all, of the people who work in children’s social care want to make a difference. They talk about it being a vocation and too many are sadly seeing that passion lost to Ofsted ratings, cheap political shots about their competency and a media onslaught that often lays the lion’s share of the blame with the social workers rather than with the people who actually commit the crimes.
I’ve seen first-hand what all this has done for the morale of the people working in those organisations. The impact of an inadequate rating on recruitment and retention of social workers can be devastating. Without exception, all the authorities that I have worked with have seen a huge turnover of staff after a poor Ofsted inspection and often the stars within those organisations leave before they become tainted with failure.
Add to that the number of leaders who are required to fall on their swords (sometimes pushed) and you have to ask yourself whether this is really helping to make children safer?
What happens after a poor inspection is at the heart of much of much of my frustration with the way that politicians and others are trying to deal with failures in children’s services. How easy it is to beat one’s chest and demand that things are done differently, blaming the agencies who should have done more to protect them .
I am working with a number of local authorities that are working to improve children’s services and I absolutely share the ambition for making a difference.
I am committed to making the service better as quickly as possible. I am also committed to leaving a legacy of sustainable change, but this takes time. Surface changes won’t move culture or behaviours we know this because if it did it would have happened already. Transferring a “problem” service to another organisation, without looking at culture and behaviour is a recipe for failure.
If the goal is to make children and young people safer then we know that the sustainable route to achieving that is changing behaviour and culture. To do this requires more than blind faith that staff will suddenly have a eureka moment simply because there is a different company name above the door.
Amanda Kelly, Executive Director, IMPOWER
This article originally appeared here