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How can we work together to spot risks and respond effectively?

Reflections from #EIFNatCon


19 May 2016

Reflections from the chair of this session at our 2016 national conference.

The session was chaired by Danny Kruger, Chief Executive of West London Zone, and featured contributions from Donna Molloy, EIF Director of Dissemination, Dr Louise Morpeth, Chief Executive of the Social Research Unit Dartington, Ali Stathers-Tracey, Programme Director with Warrington Council, and Chris Martin, Director for Integrated Commissioning and Vulnerable People, Chelmsford Borough Council.

This event left me confused – unsure whether to be depressed by the status quo or thrilled with how close we seem to be to changing the world for children and young people.

I’ll start with the depressing reality. Dr Louise Morpeth pointed out that we spend too much effort exploring models of service and not enough on who is accessing these services. The evidence suggests around 20% of the child & young person population are ‘at risk’, yet only 8% receive support from the statutory sector – and worst of all, the majority of that 8% aren’t in the 20% who need the help.

So much for referrals – but outputs and outcomes are no better. Donna Molloy was blunt about the ‘poverty of systems’ in the sector when it came to evaluation: we simply don’t know what’s working.

The good news, though, is that great models of organising support now exist. Alison Stathers-Tracey, who leads the Complex Dependency Programme at Warrington Council, has built what she called a ‘standard operating model’ for social services which engages a range of other partners and enables them to track families’ progress over time. She is now busy helping other local authorities adopt the model, and doing her best to avoid imposing it as an alien structure from outside.

Chris Martin had a different but complementary perspective. ‘It’s all about relationships’, he said, implying systems need to come second to the human connection between workers and families. He also gave examples of how the best work starts with a family’s strengths and capabilities, makes use of what’s already available locally, and anticipates demand intelligently. Chris had a clear message for services struggling with resources: the statutory sector should be an enabler for families to support each other, which they can often do better and more cheaply than social workers.

This prompted a major discussion about the role of the social sector. Donna pointed out that typical models of data management rarely include statutory partners like police and midwives, let alone the voluntary organisations who might work with the same families. A somber note was sounded by a delegate from the floor, a homicide detective who queried the propriety of sharing information between agencies.

Louise Morpeth concluded the discussion with the observation that left me partly pleased, partly depressed. We have cracked the first great challenge of collaboration, she said: we can now match and collate data from different sources; this is a significant achievement. The next challenge is agreeing protocols on how this powerful, combined data should be shared. That would be the real step forward – but we haven’t worked out how to take it yet. Maybe next year…