Warrington story of small changes: Lisa

Lisa is an Independent Review Officer (IRO) for Warrington Borough Council Children’s Services. Here, Lisa reflects on her experience of embarking on a Small Changes project within her local authority, and the impact this has had on working styles and team culture.

When the Crescendo team joined us here in Warrington, there was a widely-held, but little-spoken, belief that there was too much bureaucracy within children’s social care. People were spending lots of time behind computers, and the administrative work had become all-consuming. Individual people across the service had been trying to improve things incrementally within their roles, but we didn’t have the impetus or permission to come together for joined-up working. It took embarking on this project for us to realise that we needed a service-wide ‘call to action’ around making changes to put good social care practice at the heart of everything we do, for the good of the child at the centre.

I was primarily interested in facilitating change around the way in which documentation and information-sharing worked across children’s services. As such, I worked within three key areas:

  • Developing a new invite sheet for Child Looked After Review meetings. These forms hadn’t changed in the two decades since I started working in children’s social care, and they required extensive and duplicated communication between the IRO, admin assistants and social workers. I worked with stakeholders across the service to develop a new way of working, hosted on our Mosaic Case Management System.
  • Building relationships between social workers and the Mosaic team, so that social workers could understand the infrastructure of the Case Management System better, and the Mosaic team could have a better awareness of the barriers that prevent practitioners from working efficiently.
  • Finding new methods through which information can be disseminated around children’s social care, so that everyone can stay updated with developments around their service.

In order to deliver on these small changes, we had to ensure that all staff, wherever in the service they worked, felt like they were coming along on the journey; that we were making these changes ‘with’ them, not ‘to’ them. We ensured that there was a running thread of high-quality, relationship-based practice, and a systemic approach to change, with everything we did. That’s true for the work we undertake with families, but we also had to live those values through the way in which we worked with each other.

We faced a few barriers along the way; time can be hard to find in children’s social care, particularly over the summer months, which limited our ability to achieve everything we wanted to. But we were able to draw upon the enthusiasm of everyone across the organisation, at all areas of service and seniority. At first, this collaborative and non-hierarchical way of working took some getting used to; I was invited to a meeting to discuss incorporating potential changes with senior managers and other IROs,but I gently reminded them that this needed to be co-produced with practitioners, and with the voice of the child represented. We needed everyone to be involved – those (like myself) with lots of institutional knowledge of Warrington children’s social care, those who may just be beginning their ASYE, and those who feel quite distant from the front-line of social work practice. We organised a new meeting with all of these different groups represented, and left with a list of proposed changes to Mosaic. Since practitioners were present, we knew that the changes would support direct work with children and families, and since the Mosaic team were providing advice, we knew that the changes were compatible with the Case Management System. I was really helped along on my journey by having coaching conversations with Ryan, a member of the Crescendo team; it was so useful having someone to call and soundboard off of, even if I was just seeking reassurances that the changes I was suggesting made sense.

The impact that these small changes have had to our service has been enormous; we’re spending a lot less time going back and forth on emails, which has enabled social workers and other professionals to have more constructive conversations with children and families, and we can already see that social workers are building better relationships with children, particularly with regards to the Front Door service. Admin support workers are spending less time chasing emails, and are able to extricate themselves from the thorny issues of who should be invited to Review meetings and how (which is better tackled by the social worker and IRO). I also believe that the experience of delivering small changes has had a big impact on social workers’ mindset – they’ve been empowered to be more creative with their practice and to think outside the box. I’ve heard of practitioners walking dogs with children, or engaging in pebble drawing – things that were never really tried before, but which have the potential to facilitate better relationship-building with families.

I also believe that there’s been wider cultural change as a result of this project; we’re moving away from a way of working in which communication primarily happens via short, sharp messages over Microsoft Teams, and towards a culture where we’re encouraged to have genuine, in-depth and exploratory conversations with colleagues. Advances in technology can certainly facilitate this communication, but sometimes there’s no improving on just getting everyone in a room together and brainstorming solutions to common problems.

I’ve worked in Warrington for 20 years now, and I’ve never seen managers so present in the office and at meetings – I’ve also noticed how people are much more likely to strike up casual conversations with their colleagues across different wings of the service. The positive signalling from senior management, with the support from the Crescendo team, was hugely valuable and acted as the chief enabler for our subsequent change journey. When we started this project, we all gathered together in the town hall, which was a neutral venue away from the office – we were away from the distractions of phones, laptops and Microsoft Teams. As we started talking, you could sense an excited ripple going round the room – making change wasn’t only possible, it was expected and even encouraged! There’s a real sense of optimism now, across our organisation, that this momentum can be sustained, for the benefit of us working in the social care profession in Warrington, and most importantly for the children and families who need our service.

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