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A new dynamic for local areas

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The local public services arena is currently experiencing the beginnings of a significant transformation, mainly as a consequence of government dis-investment in services. This coincides with a movement and momentum for whole local public services system change in order to realise better outcomes for service users, which in itself can provide for significant cost savings.

There is a need to maintain frontline services by making the whole public services system work better for local people. Taking this approach to the challenge will enhance services and improve their impact on the well-being of residents, in turn realising objectives for efficiencies.

The current Troubled Families initiative provides the opportunity to pick up and continue to drive forward the integrated services agenda that stimulated a lot of the local improvements in coordinated service provision around children’s centres and localities, but whose focus was affected by the introduction of the less-focussed funding provided by the recently introduced Early Intervention Grant.

The challenge and opportunity is to drive forward improvements locally as the legacy of the network of local children’s centres; the roll out of the several year old Department for Children and Families Integrated Working Initiative (encompassing the Common Assessment Framework, the Lead Professional etc.); the Total Family initiative (which considered the whole system of services around the family), and Total Place which brought about a wide-spread consideration of how local services have been delivered to and met the needs of local people.

The Troubled Families programme has the potential to bring partners together around the theme of service redesign and provides the resources to be able to bring in a third party player to facilitate local review, reflection and a potential redesign of services to better address and respond to local needs and demand in a holistic fashion, resulting in significantly enhanced outcomes, and the realisation of efficiencies.

For the whole system approach to succeed there needs to be engagement across and throughout organisations when designing and undertaking transformation. Capturing frontline worker knowledge, experience, intelligence and best practice and feeding it into this process will promote self-sustaining whole-organisation and place based improvement. Local leaders, elected members, personnel and volunteers will also need to be involved in this process.

I was recently working as the interim Troubled Families Coordinator for Buckinghamshire. The locally developed approach is to ensure that there is the delivery of integrated mainstream and informal services to support family development and prosperity on a sustainable basis, over the long term. It is concerned with working with families on a preventative or an early intervention basis to ensure that as far as is reasonable, families are self-sustaining, avoiding or limiting the incidences of a state of “crisis” in families and the consequent direct and indirect costs to the “public purse” and impacts on communities.

There is a need to secure and then maintain ongoing strategic “buy-in” - ownership, commitment, support and action for the new way of working in Buckinghamshire amongst local senior leaders attending cross-Buckinghamshire partnership forums (including the Public Sector Forum, Network, the shadow Health and Well-Being Board and the Local Economic Partnership). Also, to secure partner recognition of the key drivers effecting the successful development and implementation of the approach being:

  • Maintaining and continuing the systemic model of practice for social care which looks at the functioning of the whole family unit as a means to support family growth and development, as a wider theme for all professionals working with families in Bucks;
  • The CAF (Common Assessment Form and the associated case management system). The common assessment system is the crux of the approach, the development of which affects the ability of the “whole system” – all public service providing elements/organisations - to work successfully to meet objectives. As such, there should be a clear focus on developing the best form of shared assessment and related systems and protocols for working “around the family”;
  • Integration across existing programmes. To be as successful as possible for families in Buckinghamshire, the development and implementation of the Troubled Families approach has to be undertaken in the context of evolving and related Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) and other partner programmes including whole-council working, social care preventive, early help and remodelling social work programmes, also BCCs role as a referrer to the European Social Fund workless families programme;
  • Manager ownership. The work on the Troubled Families approach is best “embedded” in the appropriate BCC departments and/or external organisations, with one BCC convened “Families First Coordinators group” – made up of relevant senior and middle level Managers and frontline workers drawn from the Buckinghamshire service provision. This will ensure that there is “one conversation” about the development and implementation of the Troubled Families approach, in a key arena where decision makers and practitioners can have a “joined up” conversation about how work in their areas can impact upon and relate to the other areas of practice affecting the successful development and implementation of the way of working. It recognises that all partners “speak the same language” in terms of how to best develop and provide services “around the family” and are already trying to further develop these ways of working within their areas. It provides a kind of “federal autonomy” model where no one organisation controls the activities of any other one, but all service providers will work collaboratively, striving to work with families in the best way they can on a partnership basis;
  • Workforce engagement with the Troubled Families approach is best achieved through their input into the process of development and implementation. This in effect ensures that frontline workers in particular have the opportunity to input into the development of key drivers such as the common assessment to ensure that learning from their practice is fed into the developed assessment and related systems. Workforce development is a certain outcome of this approach to working with Families. Similarly, end-user participation in some of this work will assist in ensuring that the approach meets the needs of those on the interface between end-users and frontline workers.

Clearly, when developing and implementing the local Troubled Families approach there has to be a continuous, integrated “feedback loop” throughout and across the BCC and partner organisation tiers, with a focus on the impacts on the frontline and loop round and back via Managers and the Senior level – with some end-user engagement/participation.

A requirement amongst all of this work is the need to ensure that the PBR requirements of the Troubled Families Unit are met and all the money available as a result of successful work with the families who meet the governments’ criteria is secured.

Engagement across and throughout organisations will bring about a motivation across the local area to ensure that process and service redesign activities take place, and that they are impact driven. The work will, in turn, contribute to local efforts to realise required efficiencies.

 Adam Fineberg is an Independent Advisor on Local Public Services.

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