Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has made significant progress in improving outcomes for children and young people over the past five years. At the heart of this approach has been an investment in creating an environment where staff are empowered to affect change within families and communities, alongside partners and with the organisation.
Southend-on-Sea council has spent the past few years improving frontline practice through investing in a transformational coaching and challenge programme commissioned from Youth at Risk for all social care practitioners including senior managers. Head of specialist children’s services, Heather Flinders, says: "We realised they needed staff to be able to ride the waves of change, not see them as setbacks – and the key to this was developing a sustained culture of consistent behaviours."
The Youth at Risk coaching methodology is deployed through group and individual sessions. It has dramatically impacted the teams’ working practice building resilience across all tiers of staffing.
The programme sets out to deliver the following outcomes:
- Increased responsibility for providing solutions to their own problems.
- More motivated, engaged teams, sharing a goal and vision and understanding the part they play in achieving it.
- Increased ability to make effective interventions with families.
- Confidence to communicate with increased honesty and structures to support that with partners.
- A sustainable, robust learning environment in which support is given and received.
Following last year’s coaching programme, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council were keen to know the impact of the coaching. Here are just a few examples provided by front line managers that took part:
The opportunity to pause and reflect on specific issues was experienced as invaluable. I have thoroughly enjoyed the training and experienced real practical benefits in my work. Apart from new concepts, I have also benefited from problem solving strategies. I didn't at any point feel unsafe or incompetent and the trainers role modelled attitudes that I would use with my own team.
The training and in particular the one to one coaching was entirely beneficial and assisted me to balance my roles and develop confidence in team engagement.
Flinders said: "Visibility or non visibility of senior managers in isolation does not necessarily correlate with staff feeling out of touch and unsupported. What is important is creating an environment where senior managers engage meaningfully with front line practitioners.
"The willingness and investment of the chief executive, Rob Tinlin, as well as elected councillors and senior staff to spend time with frontline staff and listen to their views has resulted in an improved culture in children’s social care and a more confident workforce. Senior managers sit together with frontline staff in the open plan office, so they encounter each other every day. Being close to staff makes that relationship easier."
"As well as opening up the lines of communication, Southend has looked at how it communicates. Flinders says: "We have learned to be honest about the things we can influence and change – and the things we can’t. All local authorities are working under constraints and we need to be realistic."
But she adds that it’s always worth consulting staff: "They may come up with better ideas, better ways to develop services within those constraints."