To integrate children’s services a shared identity needs to be established. But professional barriers must be hurdled first, reports Maria Ahmed.
Breaking down silos has become the mantra of children’s services, but no one ever said it would be easy.
That’s the job faced by directors of children’s services – integrating education and social care, not to mention health, housing, play, leisure, sport, youth services and engaging with a host of community and voluntary groups.
Removing professional barriers is the first challenge, says David Hawker, interim chair of the Association of Directors of Education and Children’s Services.
Hawker, who has been director of children’s services at Brighton and Hove Council for four years and came from an education background, recalls: “Initially, it seemed at times as if people were almost speaking different languages. There was a willingness to work together, but a lot of preconceptions which we needed to address.”
Hawker says it is a complex task to set up a new service that brings together agencies working to different agendas and inspection regimes. He says: “The key thing was to establish a new service identity based on children and young people, rather than on traditional professional silos.”
Keeping the diverse elements together is a perennial concern for children’s services directors, highlighted by arguments over whether the government’s schools agenda is compatible with the aims of Every Child Matters.
There is also anxiety over the extent to which NHS changes will take away attention from children, or whether the Home Office will allow the youth justice agenda to be run from within children’s trusts.
Andrew Cozens, strategic adviser for children, adult and health services at local government advisory body the Improvement and Development Agency, points to the need for political and managerial leadership, strong partnerships between agencies and streamlined assessment and information-sharing.
He says it is essential to integrate services around children’s centres and extended schools and produce good workforce planning.
Although Cozens is clear of the benefits of the new children’s services – better services, better outcomes measured for Every Child Matters – he says progress is variable. “Although 128 councils in England have directors of children’s services in place, a much smaller number have fully functioning children’s trusts.
“There is considerable progress on children’s centres, less on extended schools and a more considered pace on creating new service patterns – children with disabilities and early years tend to be forerunners.”
Christine Davies, corporate director for children and young people at Telford and Wrekin, which is a beacon council for integrated children’s services, says setting up the new service has required “massive structural and cultural change” on the front line.
Davies, who has an education background, has a senior team with two managers from education, one from leisure and community and one from social care. She has a budget of £200m.
Davies says all services have been pushed down to the most local level and “wrapped around” groups of schools.
Public sector services have been reconfigured into five “school and community clusters” comprising education, social care, police, primary care trust, Connexions, neighbourhood action teams and youth offending.
This has required training on new processes and ways of working for the 5,000 staff under her control.
All schools have signed up to the corporate vision for transforming education and children’s services in Telford, and provide financial support to new multi-agency teams.
Davies, who came into the post a year ago, says the initial differences in performance culture and work practices are “quickly diminishing”, resulting in a common language and objectives and more focus on vulnerable children.
Julie Jones, deputy chief executive of children and community services at Westminster Council and president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, identifies an “increasingly joined-up approach” among front-line workers as one of the key benefits of the changes.
Jones, the council’s former director of social services, has been in her current post since last June. She says the changes have resulted in a “more seamless” approach for parents and carers. With a budget of £133m, along with £81m for schools and £150m for housing, Jones has nearly 1,500 staff under her control, excluding those based in schools. Three of her senior management team have education backgrounds, and two, including herself, have a grounding in social care.
Jones says the contrast between providing “universal versus specialist services” is a challenge, but says the changes have improved preventive work and have strengthened local partnerships.
Hawker, who has a budget of £130m, £100m of which is from the direct schools grant, has some 700 staff employed centrally in the service and 4,000 more in schools. Four years after he came into post, the workforce is about to expand further. The department is merging with the children and families division of the local community health care trust and adding 200 staff.
Hawker’s senior team consists of five assistant directors, including one jointly funded with the primary care trust to lead on service commissioning, and a head of child protection and quality assurance. This month the team will be joined by the clinical director and lead manager from the community health care trust.
Hawker says: “One important strand of our change programme was to start a long-term workforce development plan so that we could, over time, change the way people worked and thought about their own roles in the system.”
He is also reorganising the service to create three area-based teams in Brighton and Hove. They will be responsible for children’s centres, community teams for under-fives’ services, multi-disciplinary teams for school-age children and families, area social care teams and youth support teams.
He envisages that the three teams will be the key point of contact for schools and GPs, co-ordinating their budgets to meet needs. The service will also continue to have dedicated city-wide teams for specialist functions, comprising an assistant director for education and schools, social care, a dedicated post for performance and quality management across the whole service and two NHS-specific posts.
Hawker has also formed teams with representatives from education and social care to support specific client groups. This includes bringing together the children’s disability service and pre-school special educational needs service.
“After the first four years, the basic parameters of the service have shifted perceptibly,” Hawker says. “By reorganising in this way, we have put ourselves into a much stronger position to secure Every Child Matters outcomes.”