Successful partnerships in children’s services in Greenwich, London, have depended on positive working relationships. Sally Jones tells Graham Hopkins how it works from a health perspective
NAME Sally Jones.
JOB Director of services for children and young people, Greenwich Teaching Primary Care Trust.
QUALIFICATIONS Registered member of Royal College of Speech and Language therapists; masters in health management.
LAST JOB Head of speech and language therapy, Greenwich.
FIRST JOB Promoting Polaroid sunglasses in a department store.
You know how it is. You’re at a conference or somewhere feeling a bit lost – and then you spot someone you know: instant relief and possible awkwardness duly avoided. We simply feel more comfortable with people we know.
And so it is with organisations and working relationships. The better you know each other the better you can understand how to get on with things. One of the original pathfinder children’s trusts – Greenwich in south London – is certainly doing just fine when it comes to partnership working.
“We’ve got a very good joined-up way of thinking and working on our patch,” says Sally Jones, director of services for children and young people at Greenwich Teaching Pathfinder Children’s Trust.
Jones, who has commissioning responsibilities, strategic lead for services and manages 350 staff, adds: “We had the prerequisites for successful partnership working – goodwill, shared aspirations and ambitions – in place for many years.”
It is a foundation of principles and understandings rather than any formalised joint structure that gives such a firm footing to the three main players in providing and commissioning children’s services: social services, education and health alongside other partners and the voluntary sector.
For Jones, whose background as a speech and language therapist is an unusual pathway to senior management, hers is an interesting position strategically. “I spend most of my time with colleagues from other agencies, particularly the council, working outside the traditional health arena.”
One noticeable difference is culture. “We don’t have elected members in health,” says Jones. “I need to understand the governance arrangements in the local authority and the influence and power of the members; and the processes my colleagues have to go through, which is very different for us.”
She adds: “You have to understand in health that children and young people, per se, are not a top priority. They are included in some of the top targets: you wouldn’t want children waiting in A&E or having them waiting too long for cancer treatment. But children simply don’t have the same focus in the health arena as they do in some other partner agencies.”
Understandably, this leads to some conflicting priorities and targets: “Whatever might be an absolute ‘must-do’ for me is not necessarily so for my colleagues in education or social services – and vice versa.”
Jones cites the example of Greenwich’s draft children and young people’s plan. “This will have been seen by members who may have been actively involved in commenting on it before presenting it to cabinet; that just doesn’t happen in the PCT. The board wants to know that it’s happening, that we’re involved and that our agenda is covered. The board will get the final document. The chief executive will delegate responsibility to me to ensure this. It’s a different process and a different level of scrutiny.”
All of which provides an intriguing working dynamic for Jones. “I’m outside the local authority and, although I might work closely with members, I’m not accountable to them,” she says. “I also work at the edge of my organisation looking out. It’s an unusual situation which means when it comes to corporate responsibility I spend more time in the town hall than with my colleagues at the trust.”
Another cultural challenge is terminology. Social and health care are professions divided by a common language. “Sometimes we will use the same words but not quite mean the same things,” says Jones. “For example, the word ‘assessment’ will mean something different to someone from a health background – and that’s fine but you need to know that. There’s something about understanding, acknowledging and working through that.”
Working effectively also means sharing the load. Jones says: “We don’t, at the moment, have any formally pooled budgets but we do have flexibility around them; we have jointly-managed posts and joint responsibilities, but have to make sure there is clarity about management priorities – and money. But what we have said consistently is that this is not about a structure, it’s about a way of working.”