Social workers play a vital role in achieving better outcomes for individuals and on World Social Work Day we have an extra reason to celebrate social work. I have been working with social workers in one local authority and have taken away some key lessons about relationships in social work.
We recently ran our fifth and final Early Help Learning Set (a regular gathering of children’s services practitioners hosted by IMPOWER to discuss the challenges of delivering Early Help). On this occasion we were joined by Early Help professionals from six local authorities for a discussion that ranged from Ofsted to radicalisation to child sexual exploitation, with the common theme of how Early Help teams can address the very different challenges these present.
At the conclusion of the session we reflected on the five sessions we have run over the last 12 months and captured the key pieces of advice we would give to someone taking the reins of an Early Help team.
In no particular order these included:
- Partners are critical, but you need to be clear about what the Early Help service delivers and what it enables others to do. Early Help teams can’t do everything and internal and external partners – especially schools – are often better placed to provide support
- Where the council is delivering services – make sure you keep the people within the organisation to deliver. An obvious point, but an important one!
- Where other partners are delivering services, find ways of making sure their approach is consistent. There are many ways of doing this but training and clear communication about expectations is critical.
- Quality Assurance is important for consistency and improving outcomes – internally and externally – but this needs to be proportionate. Managers need to balance review with managing and taking time to address the ever-changing demands put on their service.
- Make sure Early Help has its own brand and ensure people realise that it is not the same as social care. An Early Help service is not a substitute or add-on to social care; it should have a clear offer and purpose and should be very clear about what that is to service users and partners.
- Know your data, and in particular your demand; evidence is critical for getting resources and for keeping them by using them effectively
- Being in the community is the most effective place to build trust and relationships. Locality models and working in the places where people are is critical to the success of Early Help.
- The role of the Local Safeguarding Children Board is important to motivate and support partners – make sure it understands its role and you understand what it can offer to you, your team and partners.
- Never forget the voice of the child
There was a clear message coming out of the sessions: ultimately, Early Help is all our responsibility. It cannot and should not be delivered by the council alone. Working effectively with partners is the best way to deliver the service.
Finally I would like to thank the local authorities who attended the sessions – particularly those who had to travel some distance to join us – and my colleagues who helped create some stimulating and insightful content and conversations. As one of our attendees put it:
“These sessions were excellent [with] great insights that you just can’t get elsewhere.”
Past Early Help Learning Sets:
Early Help session 1: Introductions and sharing challenges
Early Help session 2: Models of delivery: turning a theoretical approach into reality
Early Help session 3: Commissioning services and managing budgets
Early Help session 4: Working with schools
If you would like further information about IMPOWER’s work with Early Help, please feel free to get in touch.