Hackney Council pushes ahead with restructure

Creating new ways of working for social work teams means overhauling both the structure and the culture of working, writes Clare Chamberlain (pictured)

ost of the past year of the change programme in Hackney’s children’s services was spent designing, planning and preparing to implement the new model. Now, we are in the process of making it happen.

So far, we have 15 social work units up and running. By the time we’ve finished implementation, there will be 48 social work units spanning the whole of children’s social care in Hackney.

Each unit is led by a consultant social worker – a well paid social worker who works directly with the families and has case accountability but also manages the unit. In each unit there is also another social worker, a children’s practitioner (who is non-social work-qualified), a half time systemic family therapist or clinical practitioner, and a unit co-ordinator.

Our change programme is based on the 7-S system, a management model that describes the seven elements required to create a balanced organisation. These are: strategy, structures, systems, staff, skills, style and shared values.

For most organisations, the first five of these are straightforward. It is creating the shared values and changing the style – the culture – that is the real challenge.

What is the culture?

The culture consists of the small elements that make up the way people behave the patterns and routines, the way they work with children and families, the image they create to other agencies. It is difficult to identify and notoriously hard to change.

So how are we going about it in Hackney? At one of our recent management conferences, social work lecturer and child protection expert professor David Shemmings talked about change happening like a virus or infection – you have to catch it from the people around you, and it needs to be tackled at several different levels.

The consultant social workers are key in terms of providing leadership and carrying the culture for their units. The selection process for these posts is tough, but so far we’ve employed some excellent people – from both within and outside Hackney – who bring strong skills and a culture of professionalism.

The unit co-ordinators in each unit are also key people in terms of influencing culture. They are the ones who organise people’s diaries, arrange meetings, keep records of what is going on, and support the unit to run efficiently and smoothly. This group, recruited internally and externally, are already helping to free up social workers’ time to spend with children and families.

Induction programme

And finally there is the induction programme – a five-day training package that all social work units go through before they start working.

The week includes time to think and plan what they are going to do, learn about the methodologies and social work interventions that will be used, and work out how the unit will operate. It is an opportunity to identify what the professional culture of each social work unit will be, how members will work with children and families, how they will respond to other agencies, and what can they expect from each other.

The atmosphere on these training weeks has been brilliant the people attending have been enthusiastic, positive and eager to use their knowledge and skills to create a culture for social work. It is definitely catching!

Clare Chamberlain is a freelance consultant managing the change project for children’s social care in the London Borough of Hackney. This is the third in a series of four articles about the project. Read more

This article appears in the 13 March issue under the headline “Change is like a virus – you have to catch it from others”

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