Following their experiences of responding to COVID-19, Trafford Council recognised that the way council staff, local communities and partners had risen to the challenge had reset their original ambitions for what was possible in the Trafford Modernisation Programme. In June 2020, FutureGov and the Trafford Modernisation Team undertook a stocktake to identify opportunities to build on the new ways of working developed during their COVID-19 response.
Following the stocktake, we agreed to run 3 workstreams with the Modernisation team in Trafford, two of these workstreams were with Children’s Services. Trafford wanted to use their momentum and new ways of working to support staff to address a number of areas of activity highlighted as poor from their last Ofsted review, utilisation of data and if the ways the services were organised was inhibiting delivery. We focused on two areas, Children’s Social Care Services Redesign and Children’s Social Care Data.
Throughout our research, listening to and involving children, young people and their families alongside front line staff, VCSE and colleagues from related services helped place the Voice of the Child at the centre of this work. This approach also helped to address concerns raised by Ofsted about the Voice of the Child.
From interviews with children, families, young people and developing the “as is” journey with front line staff including social work practitioners, voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSE) and staff from health, commissioning and education we found common challenges for those using and delivering the services.
We developed seven opportunity areas for improvement for Children’s Social Care and ran sessions with staff and VCSE to develop over 200 possible solutions. These opportunity areas focused on how the council can:
- be more consistently inclusive to the children’s voice throughout their journey
- limit the number of changes for the point of contact to create a more seamless and supportive journey
- support families and children to strengthen their networks
- better match children for short and long-term placements
- be more consistent in the way they work with partner agencies and other local authorities
- make sure commissioned services are appropriate and available at the point of need
- support families and children earlier to identify and prevent needs
This list was prioritised with the team and senior leadership to four projects found in our recommendations, all of which help to address systemic issues that impact the whole of the service. Helping progress the ambitions of the Modernisation programme, all of these projects involve working with partners, providers and the VCSE as well as service users to develop shared solutions.
Our research on children’s data revealed six critical challenge areas that exist across the Children's Social Care service. Ofsted’s report signalled a need to build practitioners' trust in data and how to use data in their day-to-day practice. Data reports showed issues in the service, but they were not confidently acted on, including:
- an existing ‘reactive top-down data culture’, which created a negative relationship between practitioners and data
- a lack of understanding of how to use data and information, and no training to support improvement
- too much time spent on inputting, collecting, cleaning and reporting data rather than with children and families
- decision making excludes qualitative information and inclusive family feedback
- systems, teams and partners do not share data effectively, negatively impacting a child's story
- systems in place support compliance not practice and don’t meet the needs of practitioners
We then created a roadmap of ideas to deliver on the outcomes in our recommendations. The ideas were developed with staff within children’s services and experts from the performance team.
Trafford’s new outcomes for their Children’s Social Care data service reflect a collaborative data culture where practitioners view data as a catalyst for good practice. The council is actively looking to support staff to confidently use tools, interpret and act on data. As part of their modernisation programme, data will allow staff to focus on delivering meaningful support to children and families. Going forward, internal and external partners will consistently contribute to a complete child/family story where feedback is used to guide performance, practice and decisions.
This data project with Children’s Social Care was also a test case for Trafford’s new Performance Team - a team which brought together data analysis colleagues from different parts of the council into one team. This approach used in this work enabled the team to define their new roles and responsibilities and provided tools and processes for them to work with services to deliver insights and analysis - and not clean data and provide data only reports. This was a key shift change in Trafford Council having consistent data to support decision making at all levels of the council.
This project has empowered staff to understand how they can reshape their ways of working. This mindset shift is as important for frontline staff working with families as it is for leadership and management reshaping their role in supporting frontline staff in their social work practice.
Children’s redesign service
Our recommendation in redesigning the Children’s Social Services is to address the systemic issues that impact the whole service by:
- the co-production of documents and processes with children, families and young people to build greater confidence in listening to and actioning the child’s voice
- organising so managers connect to the wider ecosystem, have autonomy and use their restorative practice with their teams
- developing a universal process for transitioning children between workers, both within the service and with partners, providers and the VCSE
- reshaping fostering to be an integrated part of Children’s Services
These areas of focus will support the implementation of the Improvement Plan for Ofsted and put in place the foundations for continuous improvement of the service. Aspects of this work will also support the recommendations for the Modernisation Programme.
Our main recommendation is for children’s social care (CSC) and the current performance and modernisations teams to commit to a long term plan to improve data quality and use in these services. A lot of the learnings, approaches and solutions could also be relevant across similar services such as Adults, Employment and Housing.
Our recommended actions for leadership to take the plan forward:
- host sessions with CSC leadership to agree on outcomes
- host sessions with CSC leadership to prioritise the ideas from this work to carry forward
- commit to a joint funding model where the centre and CSC deliver these projects together, with enough funding to bring expertise and /or technology in when required
- create or align with current performance measures
- conduct more ideation sessions with CSC to identify opportunity areas to take forward into the delivery