Childrens services - one year on

Services for children in the community are now a key deliverable for local government. In the past they have been handled by a host of different public sector bodies with different remits and objectives – this can lead to confusion and inefficiency. The Children’s Act creates statutory obligations to meet set national standards on care and support while offering ample opportunity for local service providers to tailor it to specific needs of individual children in their area.

New approach
To be effective, it requires a joined up approach. This means councils working together with schools, the primary care trusts, police and other organisations that could make a difference in a child’s life. As the recent Joint Area Review (JAR) reflects, Havering has successfully brought together these elements and developed a shared approach, coordinated through the newly created office of Group Director, Children’s Services at the council.
On my appointment as Havering’s first Group Director I was pleased to find that the council’s different internal and external partners such as schools and the local PCT provided a strong foundation to implement the requirements of the Children’s Act. There was already a common sense of ownership.

Empowering staff
The starting point was a series of one-to-one discussions with front line managers to identify how best we could empower our staff and break down the silo mentality. This resulted in bringing together the council’s sections responsible for delivering children services together under one roof to enhance cohesiveness in delivery and communication between staff.
Personally, it was a steep learning curve. Coming from a social services background as well as coming from outside of London, I needed to get up to speed with the perspectives of our colleagues in the health and education areas. The open communication approach and our willingness to understand their perspectives helped build a trusting relationship. This resulted in proactive partners committed to the success of the process.
The approach on which we agreed was that of an evolutionary strategy with small incremental changes becoming embedded in the process to deliver the best results. Obviously, the strategies and frameworks are only as good as the results they achieve on the ground.

Improving quality of life
The focus of all our strategies have been to ensure we keep our children healthy, safe and provide them with a good quality of life and opportunities to achieve. In health, we worked closely with the PCT and health care professionals to address key healthcare issues including prevention. Some of the achievements in this area have been the progress on access to planning and delivery of CAMHS, SureStart and health promotion on obesity issues. Similarly, we have developed common approaches to ensure our young people are not victims of crime or become involved in criminal activities.
Our methods of integrated working are primarily concerned with getting co-ordinated help moving quickly for children with additional needs. They are tools to help stimulate early intervention, joining services up to ensure an integrated approach and multi-agency working whilst breaking down traditional barriers and the bureaucracy that goes with them.

ICT initiatives
From an ICT viewpoint there are four initiatives:

  • Integrated Children’s System (ICS): a case record system for children’s social care
  • Common Assessment Framework: a standard form and electronic template to help practitioners gather and understand the needs and strengths of the child
  • ContactPoint: a tool to enable practitioners to confirm the identity of a child, contact one another easily and quickly, and share relevant information about children who may be receiving, or in need of, services
  • Children Services Directory: a comprehensive online information bank of all types of children’s and young people’s services available in a local area.

The Integrated Children’s System is a key component for establishing an integrated network of IT support and Havering was successful in meeting the first Government deadline for implementing ICS in the period Jan-March 2007. It provides a single approach to undertaking the key processes for assessment, planning, intervention and reviewing based on an understanding of children’s developmental needs in the context of their families and communities.
This success was built on the recognition that, important as technology is, the real changes required are associated with working practices and processes, with IT being a vital change management and administration tool. It has also been recognised (by the DfES among others) that the project has had high quality project management and procurement support using internal and external resources.
Overall I have a firm belief that children’s services must be able to create aspiration and hope. They must work with wider external stakeholders such as employers and others to create an environment where our young people can be productive members of society. All our partners in Havering can and should take pride in the results that we have achieved in the Joint Area Review. But more is needed.
We should challenge ourselves continually to improve our services through more structural and operational integration, identifying better ways to build on the unique strengths of each partner and developing frameworks that enable long term planning. We have demonstrated in Havering the value of early intervention works, and the challenge is to keep that progress going and develop the services needed.

Flexible systems
Our community is constantly evolving and to keep pace with the change in wider society we need to have the flexibility within our systems that allows us to build on successes and discard things that do not deliver results. But local service providers and councils cannot hope to sustain a path of continuous improvement alone. Central government can play its part by helping to embed the impact of legislative changes and create a sense of partnership between local service providers and policy makers.
We must not lose sight that the ultimate goal of children’s services is to ensure our future generations are well prepared in every sense to be productive members of society. Our experience in Havering shows that a shared approach, one that empowers public sector professionals at all levels can make a real difference.

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