Blackpool may be a world-famous seaside resort but it is also making waves as a town committed to tackling challenges in how it delivers care to its children, young people and families.
Following Blackpool’s ‘inadequate’ judgment in 2018, the council embarked on a journey to engage with, listen to and learn from the children, families and social workers it supports. The aim was and still is to improve its child protection services. The council is doing this by advancing the quality of social work practice, and strengthening and supporting families, through a model of practice it calls ‘Blackpool Families Rock’.
Listening and learning
Young people, families and social workers from the council teamed up recently to create sticks of rock with the ‘Blackpool Families Rock’ strapline running through it. Just like the stick of rock that bears the Blackpool name, the council is embedding families at the centre of everything it does.
“Using a restorative approach, we asked hundreds of people we serve – including those that are subject to a child protection plan, families, foster carers – what they would like us to do,” says Jeanette Richards. Jeanette is the deputy director of children’s services at the council, who along with the council’s director of children’s services, Diane Booth, represent the wave of new senior leadership within the organisation.
These recommendations were aligned with evidenced-based social work methodology and included partnering with other local authorities (Leeds, Essex, and Stockport) to develop Blackpool’s practice model.
Collaboration or ‘co-production’, as Blackpool calls it, is part of this transformation process. The views of families and children inform how the council delivers training, workshops and conferences, and these developments are key to enriching the Blackpool Families Rock model of practice.
“We work with children so that parents understand their daily experience and the impact,” says Jeanette. “We are more about giving people the power to lead their care instead of having it done to them. So, the language we use has become less formal and the process is more collaborative.”
She adds: “At a child protection conference we organised, I remember a mother, whose child had been subject to a child protection plan, came up to me and said that in previous meetings she was told what to do, did not understand what was expected of her and was scared. But now she understood and wanted to work with us.
“The mother stated that she actually “enjoyed” the conference, having previously had what she considered to be a bad experience at conference and stated that this was down to the new model.”
The change is having a knock-on effect on how staff deliver their support. Even within the child protection process, there is also a partnership implementation group which is committed to implementing the Blackpool Families Rock model.
“Senior leaders, practitioners are all working on relationships, working with restorative practice principles, and working with people – not to people or for them,” says head of safeguarding quality review service and principal social worker Kara Haskayne. “They are really trying to find strengths in family ecosystems and trying to keep children within families through these measures.”
The new system creates space to develop relationships with the children and families that staff are working with.
Having a funding injection of over £5m to increase staffing by around 25% has also been a real boost as has streamlining team structures.
“We saw the importance of nurturing relationships and started by creating smaller teams with smaller spans of control for managers,” says Jeannette. “So that managers really know their staff well and understand the children and families that are receiving a service from these individual teams.”
The change has meant that a traditional safeguarding team that would have consisted of a team manager, a deputy team manager, 10 social workers, and five assistant social workers, now consists of a team manager, two senior social workers, three social workers.
“This traditional safeguarding team had a complex structure in terms of lines of accountability,” says Jeanette. “The new system creates space to develop relationships with the children and families that staff are working with.”
As a result, average caseloads within the team have dropped from 30 to 19, and in Blackpool’s assessment teams in the multi-agency safeguarding hub, efficiency has increased. There is much more focus on the social worker enabling change by supporting families in shaping their own care plan, rather than social workers just processing assessments.
Kate Simpson, a newly qualified social worker in the children looked after team, believes that having smaller teams, the creation of two permanent AYSE co-ordinators, and access to senior managers, is helping to add value to her work.
“In cases where staff have been struggling to source more information to support a family’s case, or gain a referral into services, because the team is so tight-knit we can consult with our managers,” says Kate. “We also have added support from the AYSE coordinators who understand the values of accessing these resources and who can feed this need back to the PSW.
Finding the positives
Blackpool is aware of its challenges but is tackling them head on through the participation of staff, children and families. But rather than seeing these as shortcomings, Kate see these as incentives.
“Social work is a challenging job – in itself – and I don’t feel that the challenges in Blackpool should be any different to anywhere else,” says Kate. “I think the reason why people go into social work is to build those relationships and that is something that is definitely passed down from senior management to AYSE level in Blackpool. “I was aware of the Ofsted inspection and the plan to implement the new model of practice. So, when I started in June 2019, it was already evident that the model was starting to take effect.”
Kate is not the only one to think so. Team morale is high and the excitement of being part of Blackpool’s change is growing, according to Jeannette who receives messages from staff such as: “This training was like getting a big hug, felt really accepted and included not blamed – a lovely experience that has filled me with hope”. And: “Looking forward to having more time with families and less time office based”.
“We have the capacity to change, we have the resource and support – it’s all there,” says Jeanette. “All we need is more social workers and managers to help deliver that.”