From instruction to delivery: implementing the Care Review
Emmet Regan provides a framework of four 'Ps' - people, perspective, partners and prioritising - to guide implementation of the Independent Review of Children's Social Care. A version of this article was first published in the MJ here.
Within the coming weeks, the government has committed to providing its response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (Care Review). This response will compete for government attention and focus alongside issues such as the impending NHS winter crisis and the need for historic support on energy bills.
Mario Cuomo, the former Governor of New York famously noted, people campaign in poetry, but they govern in prose. Following the work of Josh MacAlister and his team in producing the Care Review, the government must now turn to making that prose into a reality.
The challenges cannot be underestimated in making complete system changes at a local, regional, and national level against the current economic and staffing backdrop. Now is the time to think through the implementation of the Care Review and how it can be delivered on the ground.
Since its publication earlier in the year, there has been a lot of debate in relation the Care Review and its recommendations. It is safe to say that views are far from universal and there are some big questions about the utility of substantial changes such as the implementation of Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) and the introduction of new social work roles.
Why must this happen?
Key to successful implementation of any national change is to understand the reason as to why the change must happen. Social work and social workers have faced constant change since the Coalition government of 2010 with countless initiatives and reviews across children’s social care, fostering, SEND and the creation of Regional Adoption Agencies.
Underpinning the implementation of the Care Review must be relentless engagement with all stakeholders, really focussing on why change is required and what difference that change will make to people’s lives up and down the county. This must be for the sector by the sector.
Framework for delivery: The Four P’s
Below I have outlined what I believe are the four core tenants that should underpin the implementation of the Care Review.
Whatever way one looks at it, implementing the Care Review will require a short and a long-term people strategy. For any local authority to implement changes such as an expansion of Early Help or the creation of the Regional Care Cooperatives (RCCs) staff will need to be upskilled and trained for short term change management. Resource will also have to be found to project manage the changes, this will require additional resource. Without that additional resource to do this, staff will have to do this and the ‘day job,’ that is a recipe for non-uniform delivery and non-functional change. In the longer-term, thought must be given to recruitment of new roles and retention of experienced staff. Work on RCCs will require a different skill set and different expertise. This is also true of the new expert social worker role.
Crucial to any successful implementation of the Care Review will be understanding the importance of perspective. It Is very easy to focus on project plans and power point slides, but these changes are about people’s lives. The sector and service users are likely to have very different perspectives on the change in comparison to each other. Those tasked with delivering the policy from Whitehall, will have a very different views from leaders in Townhalls. When implementing the Care Review, thought must always be given to different people’s perspectives, their motivation, and their views. Without the Care Review implementation taking account of perspective, it will only work for those who implement it, not those who rely on social care to change their lives.
Social work is not delivered in a vacuum, Children’s Services departments, up and down the country, rely on partners to keep children safe, to keep children in their homes (where it is safe to do so) and to support wider family groups. Without the consent and involvement of partners, there is a risk that the recommendations of the care review are impossible to deliver. Thought must now be given to how partners can be brought in from the start, be made responsible and be resourced to deliver change on the ground.
Government can be victim of trying to do everything and not delivering it correctly. The key to successful delivery will be the government prioritising the Care Review recommendations. Local authorities are already facing precarious budgets with increasing demand and complexity. Simply stating that here are the recommendations and get on with it, will not work. This must be a collective effort with sector involvement, partner buy in to prioritise and deliver accordingly.
The Care Review recommendations sit alongside the outputs from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, all of which the government has promised its response to by the end of the year. Ensuring that the Four Ps are followed will allow for a different kind of implementation, one built on relationships that ensures perspective is key and clarity is provided. This is a once in a generation chance to make a system wide change, we must take that opportunity.
Read more about MV's work in children's services here.