Tower Hamlets story of small changes: Syeda

Syeda was a social worker in a Tower Hamlets Family Support and Protection team that embarked on a Small Changes project. Here, Syeda reflects on her experience of small changes, and the impact the project has had on her practice.

The main barriers that kept me from spending more time in direct practice with children and families are probably familiar to many practitioners in Child Protection teams; there’s too much bureaucracy, and the statutory requirements of my role left little time for any practice that’s not specifically directed in legislation. For example, the need to carry out regular Child Protection visits in family homes, combined with the fact that there’s only so much time in the day, dissuaded me from visiting children at school, even if that was the most appropriate and impactful visit to make. While the Crescendo team and small changes project couldn’t change the legislative framework of child protection social work, they’ve really helped me and my former team to feel empowered and motivated in our roles, which I believe is having a positive effect on the families we work with.

The Crescendo team helped us to identify and implement three small changes within Tower Hamlets:

  1. Establishing a culture of staff regularly supporting, acknowledging and motivating colleagues.
    Becoming more creative in our direct practice with children, learning the lessons from our experience of hybrid working during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  2. Developing one universal referral form for families to access in-house services provided by Tower Hamlets.
  3. I think the key enabler for successfully delivering small changes has been the motivation and passion from within my team and from management; everyone’s got lots of ideas they want to see implemented and they’re aware of the positive effects that small changes are having. That sense of having regular and enthusiastic buy-in from stakeholders across our service has been so important in successful uptake; we need to hear that change is good and that people want change to happen.

That being said, we’ve encountered a number of barriers which have prevented us from fully realising the potential of the small changes project, and which we hope to address following the development and implementation of a local blueprint:

  • Not everyone sees implementing changes as a shared responsibility, both within social care and partner agencies; it sometimes feels like it’s on other people to make change happen, or for a service to be formally allocated responsibility. We’ve not always felt like it’s within our responsibility or our gift to see things through, which can be a convenient excuse for not being proactive!
  • Likewise, even when people don’t like a process, there can be a sense of familiarity and comfort with it being in place – changes to the process, or its complete withdrawal, can feel formidable.
  • Verbal buy-in from senior management has been very forthcoming but mobilising time and resources towards effecting change has been much more difficult. For example, everyone is enthusiastic about remedying issues with duplication within Mosaic, a case-recording software. We’ve got permission and encouragement to change the platform, but we need funding and technical skills to see any changes through, and that’s much harder to implement.

As such, I found the small changes project most helpful in that it allowed me to refocus my energies on the changes that I can implement within my role, as opposed to my service at large. For example, I became an enthusiastic ambassador for engaging with children and young people in creative ways. I downloaded a number of (age-appropriate) games to my phone, which I offered as activities on visits. These games really helped me to break down barriers; they helped younger children feel more confident to talk, while teenagers had something else to focus on if they disliked engaging in face-to-face conversations. I also heard of colleagues giving teenagers their phones to input responses to questions if they’re reluctant to voice something, but felt more comfortable writing it down. We’ve learnt from our experience of hybrid working the advantages and barriers of face-to-face and remote visits, so I’m glad we used that experience as a foundation for re-imagining elements of our direct practice.

I was also very passionate about motivating colleagues, so I threw myself into building a supportive culture for my team, and encouraged others to do the same. I nominated my team for staff awards and got involved with Tower Hamlet’s Social Work Academy, who had been planning a series of events for World Social Work Day. I reached out to other teams and partner agencies to request feedback from them on where they’d witnessed excellent work from social workers, so that we could celebrate good practice wherever and whenever it arose. Early on in the small changes project, the Crescendo team encouraged us to reflect on the values that we should live through in our work – things like being honest, creative, innovative, supportive of one-another and open to new ideas. I think just reflecting on these has helped us to bring these qualities to the fore in our work and has formed the foundation of a renewed team culture across Child Protection. I see colleagues and managers recognising each other’s strengths in team meetings more, which supports social workers to go back to families with a fresh perspective and energy. If we as social workers feel supported and valued in our roles, we’re better able to work constructively with families, and we’re more likely to stay within the local authority, which gives families a more consistent experience with the social services. It’s all linked!

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