It’s been a busy two years for Croydon’s Children with Disabilities service.
Since Ofsted rated the London borough “inadequate” in 2017, the team has moved fast to improve the support it gives to children and young people with severe and profound disabilities.
The changes – aided by extra funding and refreshed senior leadership – are already bearing fruit.
A recent Ofsted monitoring visit reported that the service is providing “appropriate and well-informed” support to the majority of disabled children.
But the most significant change yet is just about to start, and it’s going to be a big one.
A mindset change
“It’s going to be a major change in mindset,” says Lottie Fairman, service manager for children with disabilities and transitions.
“Currently, we operate a 0-to-18-year-old service and a 18-to-25 service. That’s about to change. Between now and December, we’re heading to a 0-to-13 service and a 14-to-25 service.”
The goal, she explains, is to deliver a step change in the quality of transitions for disabled children in Croydon.
“There’s a general, national acknowledgement that transitions need to start at 14 but our current service structure means we’re starting transitions too late in Croydon,” she says. “So we’re moving to bringing ourselves in line with 14 as the starting point so that transitions are very clear by 18 for every young person we work with.”
But bridging social care’s adults-children divide requires a new mindset.
Bridging the professional divide
“The way social work training is delivered means people are trained for children’s or adults’ services,” says social worker Jodie Cabrera.
“But to provide a good quality 14 to 25 year old service in disabilities, you need to cross that divide. The challenge for us is to get past having children’s social workers who don’t understand the adults’ side and adults’ social workers who don’t know the children’s side.
To solve this challenge Croydon is looking to recruit social workers from both sides of the 18 divide and provide them with the training and support that will enable them to work across the two halves of the social care world.
“In children’s social work the onus is on supporting parents to act in the best interests of their child and the child’s journey is dictated by that somewhat,” says Jodie. “But at 18 individuals reach an age where they get to make their own decisions and that brings in the complexities of capacity and the balancing act that comes with allowing adults to take risks.
“We want to recruit both children and adults social workers and equip them with the skills they need so that they feel confident in managing the other side of the divide.”
‘An amazing opportunity’
Team member Jacqui Toney notes that this mix of adults and children’s social work is something unique to working with children with disabilities.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to develop skills in both adults and children’s social care and work with individuals on both sides of 18,” she says. “Children with Disabilities is really the only area in social work that lets you do that.”
The changes are also giving the service’s social workers a chance to really reflect on their practice.
“The next few months are a chance for everyone on the team to really think about how best to do social work,” says Jacqui. “For example, we’re going to look at moving away from child in need plans for older individuals. Do we really need to do a child in need plan for a 16 or 17 year old? Maybe we should get rid of them altogether and replace them with transitions plans?
“At the moment, the focus is always on the social work practice around the child in need plan. That means the transition plan – which is actually the more important plan – becomes the afterthought, when it should be the primary focus. The new service offers us a chance to reset the focus.”