Hackney’s model for change draws widespread interest

We’re in the middle of a huge change that aims to transform the way social work services are delivered in Hackney and to bring back the essence of social work. By that, we mean a social work service that uses a theoretical framework to effect change in complex family situations.

Children’s social care will be provided from small social work units, with the whole unit working with the family. The units will be led by consultant social workers who will have case accountability but who will allocate tasks to the mixed group of practitioners within their units.

The focus is on purposeful intervention using methodologies that have a proven evidence base – specifically systemic family therapy and social learning theory.

Each social work unit will have clinical input to help them deliver systemic interventions. They will also have unit co-ordinators, who will ensure the unit runs efficiently by managing diaries, arranging meetings, organising venues and so on so that social work staff can spend more time doing social work.

But getting from where we are now to where Hackney wants to be is a major undertaking.

Change management has five stages: creating the vision, planning the changes, communicating the changes, implementing the new model, and embedding the changes. We’re between the third and fourth stages.

The vision came from senior managers here, but with lots of input from staff in the department. They’ve been refining the ideas over the past year or so.

The second and third stages of planning and communicating the detail of the organisational change was an exciting and inspiring period, with most staff in Hackney children’s social care positive about the proposals.

Implementing has been more difficult. There are new posts, new job descriptions, a new ethos and culture to take on, and systems to sort out. There are too many people eligible for some posts, and too few for others. Inevitably, this has meant that staff have had to go through assimilation and selection processes, which have caused anxiety and distress.

Throughout this, it has been important to keep a focus on the aim of the change – to improve the way social work services are delivered – while not losing sight of the impact on individual staff within the organisation.

Meanwhile, outside Hackney, the interest in what we’re doing has been huge. There is a tangible enthusiasm for developing a workforce where social workers have professional autonomy and clear direction.

It’s not just in Hackney that there is concern about social workers losing confidence. There is a common view that the profession suffers too much bureaucracy and is over-burdened, with too much form-filling and a reliance on an exaggerated hierarchy.

We’ve had approaches from national organisations interested in the model, and from individuals who want to work in a social work unit. By the beginning of December we will have the first group of social work units up and running. We’re not just talking about reclaiming social work any longer we’re actually doing it.

Claire Chamberlain is a freelance consultant managing the change project for children’s social care in the London Borough of Hackney. This is the second in a series of four articles from her over a 12-month period about reshaping children’s social work in Hackney.

Related article
Hackney reorganises children’s social work

Further information
Hackney’s change programme

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