Reflecting on our recent experience of virtual working with councils, health services, social workers and schools
Guest blogpost written by Matt Clayton, Group Manager Safer at North East Lincolnshire Council
Whilst many local authorities have been delivering online support, advice and guidance for some time, Covid-19 has forced North East Lincolnshire council to accelerate and widen this approach.
Over the last two years, North East Lincolnshire has faced significant challenges in relation to rising demand and our ability to protect the most vulnerable. In 2019, we commissioned IMPOWER to carry out a risk stratification of all families open to statutory services (such as child protection or safeguarding services). In March of this year, as lockdown measures began to impact on ways of working, we utilised this risk stratification work to inform our Covid-19 support plans, to enable us to better understand need and prioritise which families we should contact first.
There are many questions around the impact of the pandemic on families in our communities, and the support that some may require as a result. Risk stratification seemed a sensible starting point to identify families most in need of support, or experiencing stresses and difficulties at this time but not open to statutory support. Much thought was given to creating a threshold and method for providing this support.
We then worked swiftly to deliver this, using the following design principles:
- Proactively identifying vulnerability and prioritising the provision of information, guidance and support to support wellbeing
- Ensuring conversations and the information, guidance and support provided are strength-based and enable independence
- Minimising physical contact and streamlining remote contact with households
- Targeting effort and resource based on levels and complexity of vulnerability
- Scaling support up or down as the context requires
- Ensuring it is easy to set up and does not require the reconfiguration of services, and;
- Ensuring it is not onerous to provide.
Lockdown measures restricted the way the council was able to support our communities, but a number of local authority staff who identified themselves as vulnerable were still able to work from home, so we were able to deliver support in a different way by introducing the Virtual Hub workforce.
The Virtual Hub works remotely, prioritising calls to families identified through the risk stratification process, and offers a range of virtual services. Resource and information packs were developed for local services, and managers quickly developed and delivered an induction/training process and a script to focus the calls on strengths-based conversations.
Within 10 days of the plan being formulated and tested, the team began making calls to a list of approximately 4000 households. Two weeks into the project, 2000 calls had been attempted, around 900 of which were connected successfully. Calls last an average of 20-30 minutes but some much longer. The projected date for contacting all 4000 households is Friday 4th June.
We have been overwhelmed by the number of people we have spoken to who are positive, coping and pleased to hear from us; they are truly grateful for the call. This is good to hear, but as you might imagine, not all families are doing so well.
Advice, guidance or signposting is offered on about 40% of the successful calls. Numerous calls lead to tears and discussion around mental health, stress and money worries. In these cases, partners have agreed to provide ongoing support. Schools shine in the messages from families, with the number of compliments far outweighing any grumbles or complaints.
We have learned so much in this short period, and are already considering how we can make improvements across other services, including how we configure front door services and improvements to our data and systems. The benefits we have seen from operating a truly ‘whole family’ approach (rather than just focusing on individual children), and developing valuable links and relationships during this short period, have been remarkable.