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  • Writer's pictureEssack Miah

Beyond the Strengthening Families Programme - how to ensure innovation that is here to stay

As the Strengthening Families Protecting Children Programme is brought to a close, Essack Miah reflects on what is needed to ensure a sustainable legacy. A version of this article was published in the final SFPC Learning Journal in March 2024.


The Strengthening Families Protecting Children (SFPC) programme was a five-year Department for Education programme to support local authorities to improve their work with families and safely reduce the number of children entering care. It aimed to achieve this by implementing successful three sector-designed innovations – Leeds Family Valued, North Yorkshire No Wrong Door, and Hertfordshire Family Safeguarding.


On 1st April 2024, the programme formally ended. The SFPC team spoke to leaders within the children's social care sector to understand how local authorities can ensure the positive aspects of sustainability, culture and partnerships could be maintained as the norm. The team's findings are reflected below in three areas: sustainability, culture and partnerships.


Lessons on sustainability


Get ahead of the curve

Leaders spoke about the need to be conscious of the post-SFPC programme financial implications from the get-go and the need to display good outcomes early on to increase the prospects of receiving permanent funding for roles. To have the successes of an innovation bear fruit, there must be an exit strategy when the programme comes to an end, and this has to be thought of at the start of implementing an innovation.


Not always about re-inventing the wheel

Local authorities mustn't replace good practice that already exists. For instance, when we spoke to a Director for Children's Services who had implemented No Wrong Door as part of the service offer, it was imperative to add to what was already in place to increase the prospects of sustainability. From a cost-saving and avoiding duplication perspective, the provision of funding is important, but there was a need to be savvy with the funding and use it to enable long-term savings. 

Enhancing sustainability involves having an understanding that not all aspects need to be replaced, if we want [our innovation] to be sustainable, we have to make it work with what is already in place and working.

No innovation is its own island

When discussing sustainability leaders expressed the requirement to see beyond the remit of an innovation: seeing it as a catalyst to inform wider thinking. The innovation must be at the forefront when considering changes to the practice model and must be embedded into other areas of the system outside of the innovation.

The trick to sustainability is not seeing any project as a standalone, it has to be fully integrated as a practice system and family safeguarding fit in with what we are trying to do like hand in glove

Lessons on culture


Speaking the same language

There was consensus amongst all leaders that the language and practices each innovation brings must be echoed throughout and spread further than the children’s service sector. The innovations provide a language and a vision for how local authorities want to move forward, providing a consistent way of talking about their work that spreads the culture.    

Some of the [innovation principles] have seeped out onto the wider service, which is positive as it ensures the entire service is aligned. In some police protocols, we have seen some of the wording used in the model, in their communications.

Buy in from the top

Senior leadership teams need to be engaged and fully supportive of the innovation. If there is a new head of service, their desires and ambitions must align with the innovations to ensure that the culture of the service is not disrupted. This buy-in needs to be displayed in practice too: leaders noted the importance of good inductions when new staff join which promotes a positive workforce culture.

The Director for Children's Services changed during the programme but they were selected because they are a supporter of [the innovation's] ways of working.

Lessons on partnership


Making things business as usual

For partnerships to remain intact beyond the SFPC programme, ways of working and consistent lines of communication must be retained. The innovations may enable clear pathways that provide those working within children’s services the right partnership contacts and means that they are a phone call away.

Before Family Valued, we didn’t have a strategic board of partners, that is in place now and they link in with other groups, i.e. SEND and the VCS, this board will remain beyond the programme and will allow for conversations for our partnerships to develop.

 

Relational approach to practice

Leaders saw the importance of relationships and relational practice when it comes to ensuring partnerships are sustained beyond innovation programmes.

Systematic practice is key for me, and a relational way of working with colleagues, partners and families becomes an all-encompassing framework which you cannot deviate from. This is something which will drive sustainability more so than anything else. Having everyone understand that relationships are the bedrock of anything, what you bring new to relationships, pre-existing beliefs and experiences will ensure that an operating model such as family safeguarding can be effective. Otherwise, you are doing to and our whole philosophy is doing with. We want our practitioners to make meaningful relationships.

To read more about the SFPC programme visit the SCIE website https://www.scie.org.uk/strengthening-families/


To learn more about MV's work on children's social care click here.

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