This is an occasional newsletter regarding the Signs of Safety England Innovations Project.

Newsletter #2 February 2015

Some of the important things that LA’s have done since the last leadership workshop

  • narrowing down the plan, organising a more structured approach
  • formal launch in Borough, Eileen Munro attended, invited and local practitioners
  • big launch planned with Chief Executive this week; senior managers strongly behind the implementation
  • remodeled area social work teams into smaller units, advantage being small groups of staff working round smaller caseload in teams and with a consultancy role
  • practice conference – “mini gathering” – workers showing examples of their practice, a very good day
  • more thinking on the purpose of the programme, re-energising and being clear; project manager appointed
  • programme manager recruited; key dates in diary to manage work streams and delivery
  • sessions with MTM consultant; sessions by Signs of Safety trainer for Police in the community safety partnership, well received
  • project plan developed, project team expanded, first meeting of project board (steering committee); project team meeting regularly with operational staff
  • review of statutory assessment framework (first aligned 12 months ago), really helping with raising awareness and Signs of Safety practice.

Eileen Munro
Risk Sophisticated Practice 

Key points from an address by Eileen Munroe

Risk is the heart of CP practice
  • It is an easy error to say that social work is ONLY about risk and this is a low aspiration, driving up anxiety. There is a lot of fear of blame in Children’s Services in England.
  • Important that EIP participants develop shared understanding of what is a reasonable standard of practice. Good practice needs to be described in ways that are definable and achievable.
  • Risk does not only means risk of an adverse outcome. There is always a good side that could happen. CP decisions look at options and which carries best outcome for the child. That weighing up is at the heart of good practice.
Managing uncertainty
  • We are estimating what the future might hold with no certainty
  • People avoid making difficult decisions leading to drift in cases. Timescales brought in for this important reason.  
  • Organisational culture is very powerful. Risk is linked to emotions and organisations needs to recognise that reasoning is influenced by emotions and is not just a cognitive task. People need to know what is expected of them and that it is achievable 
Recording – a help or hindrance?
  • How can we reduce time spent recording because there is an unhealthy tension between recording relevant information vs recording everything  - the latter can be like looking for a needle in a haystack
  • Identifying relevance is directly linked to level of experience.
  • Doing something on time should not outweigh doing something well
Being judged
  • Very hard to move away from a culture of fear; exacerbated by austerity as fewer staff doing more work
  • Incredibly challenging task to make these kinds of risk judgments - cases need continual talking through.  
  • Want people to confident in their risk assessment but willing to admit they were wrong if needs be
Eileen Munro is working with Wokingham, West Sussex and Wakefield to adapt the English police risk principles for Children’s Services.

Managers sharing responsibility for risk in practice 

Supervisors and managers are often presented with ‘messy mappings’, case assessments and plan that a lot of people would accept but lack clarity and focus. Such cases may appear confused and maybe stuck as to the next steps.  What do you do? 

Tips to lead through confused and stuck mappings
  • Write you own danger statement about what you are worried about in the dynamics of the case
  • Rather than allowing ongoing talk – ask everyone to process and analyse and then act by writing:
    • danger statements
    • safety goals
    • questions for the family members
  • As a leader always write your own and read your own statements and questions
  • Once you have danger statements and safety goals, create safety scales that distil these into a continuum (and as a tool to really snap through the information)
  • For babies always also have a safety scale focused simply on the everyday care of the child
  • When writing your questions focus particularly on relationship questions, asking what the family members would say if they were here – this shifts away from simply what the professionals think which is usually where we are stuck
Why go this way?
  • Have to be able to talk about and track decisions  
  • Best way of leading is to show staff that you can do it  
  • Being able to show your vulnerability makes you stronger
  • Avoids making the haystack of information bigger and analysing the needle
And remember
  • The family’s views generally matter most
  • Must be some conversation about the good things about an individual - don’t always focus just on the bad

England Innovations Project Updates and Discussion

Implementation planning and steering committee status

LA Implementation plan Steering committee
Brent Draft In place
Bristol Draft In place
Leicestershire Final In place
Lincolnshire Draft In place
Norfolk Draft In place
Suffolk Final In place
Tower Hamlets Draft In place
Wakefield Draft In place
West Sussex Final In place
Wokingham Draft In place
Practice Reform Projects

Practice reform projects encompass the process of a case ‘from the front door through to conferencing’, the ‘continuum of practice’, how Signs of Safety applies across early help, children in need, protection plans and for looked after children, ‘reforming practice with PLO’ and ‘integrating with partners’ effectively. The projects will see:
  • Agreed practice outlines describing the model or steps for the practice in each area.
  • Inform exemptions to be sought from DfE rules, as appropriate and requested by LA’s.
  • Al LA’s will receive each of the practice outlines and can use them in their transformation.
  • Between one and four LA’s are participating in each specific project and will implement and feedback back how process is going - including successes, failures and barriers and provide case examples for learning – into the action learning process.
  • Final exemplar practice outlines and aligned policy to guide the practice will be developed on the basis of the experience of implementing local authorities and be publicly available across England.

MTM and the partnering local authorities are eager to have Ofsted engaged in the journey of Signs of Safety implementation and organisational alignment. Eileen Munro and a group of local authority executives have begun meetings and are looking to specify concrete work-plan to meet the shared quality objectives of both Ofsted and local authorities. The next leadership workshop will have a specific focus on this opportunity. 

Meaningful Measures in Children’s Services

Currently, we tend to count what we can count, but what we count mostly doesn’t count for outcomes for children, and what we do count then becomes what counts, what is most real. 

Meaningful Measures is about learning to count what counts for outcomes for children

We are looking to build a system for 360-degree real time feedback on the practice and the organisation through family’s experience of the practice and workers experience of the organisation. 

The system will be built on Signs of Safety results logic and international fidelity studies. It promises to continue to build the evidence base as to what makes the difference in practice and organisation effectiveness.

The system will comprise a set of easy to use, brief tools for families and workers, a workbook and guide to use the tools and record the data, and the information management system design including the capture of this QA data. 

Next Steps
  • Three LA’s have expressed an interest in working on the project
  • The beginnings of the project are in the action research surveys
  • Next step is an international research study on organisational fidelity, open to all LA’s, following the existing studies on families and worker’s experience of fidelity
  • Developing and piloting the tools and guide, to form the Meaningful Measures  / QA system, over the latter half of the EIP project
Action Research
The pilot survey for staff has been completed and the baseline survey is out. Individual reports will go to each LA and include anonymised comparison across local authorities. 

Early indications are that the longer Signs of Safety has been used, workers report:
  • strong support for using it (benefits to families) and 
  • better emotional support in their work, 
  • more critical reflection on cases, and 
  • more sense of shared risk.
The parent survey is ready to go and will be incorporated into each LA’s own way of obtaining feedback from parents.

Continuing to imagine transformed recording systems 

  • There are four parts to the information system work that has begun:
  • Apps for Signs of Safety data capture
  • Integration of Apps with existing ICS systems
  • Research and design of alternative to ICS based on Sign of Safety
  • Establishing an open source development project 
What do LA leaders need to see in an information management system? What might an ideal IMS look like?

“We need to step into technology rather than back off from it”
  • Measurement of genuine output
  • Thinking in a more sophisticated way.
  • Recording
  • Counting beans (stuff)
  • Have we made a difference to this child’s life
  • Bring together information from a variety of sources families, extended families, need, across community.  Including intelligence about the family
  • Clarity
  • Easy for child to understand why decisions were made in their life
  • Common front page as per an old paper file
  • Less statistics that need collecting
  • A visual system rather than just words
  • Practice tools - three houses, genogram incorporated into system, multi media possibilities
  • Voice activated recording – updated dictation
  • Not being trapped in prescribed workflow, rather a system to prompt good practice, ie, ask you to record only pertinent things.  
  • For now, why don’t we use our existing systems better; the existing systems CAN work and be adapted
  • Break away from data covering our backs mentality
Three Houses App Proposed Functionality 
  • Library of examples and illustrations to help practitioner.  Integrate to English legislation
  • Different levels of explanatory information from child upwards. Got to be sure we are not asking leading questions of children.
  • Decision tree (interactive), taking social workers through Three Houses step by step
  • Records Three Houses work through various input methodology
  • Data transfer to IMS
  • Management reporting  

It’s All About the Practice

Another case for senior managers to work their way through — and some more key questions as managers review cases in the role of leader
  • Scale how safe you think the plan is: where 10 = I am very confident the baby/child will be safe to 0 = I don’t think there is anything here that will keep this baby/child safe
  • What are the elements of the plan that you like the most and think really help to build the safety?
  • What else would you need to see in this plan to be confident that there is sufficient safety for this baby/child to go home?
And what did managers identify that they need to do to support staff to have the skills, confidence and structures around them to produce more rigorous and sophisticated safety plans?
  • Working more with safety plans
  • Producing and showcasing evidence of good practice
  • Bringing practitioners together to give examples of what is good
  • Learning with the workforce
  • Be prepared to be vulnerable.
  • Senior Leaders must lead by example
  • Wider network need to be involved in he practice
  • Slow down to allow time to ask the right questions
  • How do we slow the practice down, e.g. remove the 15-day timescale before a conference?

Wakefield launches!

Wakefield launches!

Wakefield as a local authority new to the Signs of Safety took the opportunity of the England Innovations Project and Terry Murphy’s visit to launch the introduction of Signs of Safety and the transformation agenda with its staff, partners and elected leadership, on Friday 30 January. Keen eyes will notice the examples of children’s and family’s work around the walls, setting the tempo and the priority for the transformation. 

The audience was overwhelmingly enthusiastic but there was also the right amount of skepticism and challenge! Other local authorities including Tower Hamlets and Wokingham have held similar launches while some such as Suffolk and West Sussex have held mini-Gatherings, learning events to showcase work that worker are proud of, all to good effect. 

Creating a vision for the practice and the organisational transformation and demonstrating leadership commitment are keys to progress.

The Next Local Authorities Leadership Workshop

The next workshop is set for 23 March, 2015, 10.00 to 4.30, Wallace Space 22 Duke's Road, London WC1H 9PN.

MTM has sought feedback from local authorities and the next day will include sharing challenges and learning, a focus on the work with Ofsted, and break out groups for research leads, the project leaders to discuss the practice reform projects and for executive leaders, as well as a continuing focus on leading for practice. We look forward to seeing you there. 
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