Small change case studies

London Borough of Wandsworth (Evolve)

Changing the approach to meetings

Practitioners in an Early Help team noticed that they were spending a lot of time in unnecessary meetings, which was distracting them from their direct work with young people. It had become default practice across the local authority to invite Early Help practitioners to any meeting where a young person was being discussed, regardless of whether there was any function to their presence, and where they often had little to contribute. In order to re-balance their roles towards direct practice, they decided to:

Reserve 12.30-5pm every day in their calendars for direct work with young people on their caseload. The practitioners decided that most of their direct work with young people took place in the afternoon, and so this period was blocked out for direct work only.

Better articulate to the wider local authority the purpose of the Early Help through the development of a team charter. This helped the wider local authority to understand when it was and wasn’t appropriate to invite practitioners to meetings.

The service could draw upon the buy-in of senior leaders within the local authority, who supported the change. The practitioners also signposted the new working style into their email signatures,which noted that they were only available for meetings between 9am-12.30pm, and that the remainder of their time was reserved for direct work with young people. This ensured that anyone communicating with the service would be informed of their priorities and their new working style.” Since the change has been implemented, practitioners have reported that they’re spending more time undertaking impactful direct work with young people, and, where internal meetings are taking place, there’s a clear purpose to their attendance. Furthermore, the charter has given the service a clearer, more distinct identity within the local authority, which has aided the way in which Early Help collaborates with other services to keep young people safe.

Take better, more concise notes

Team members across the Early Help service noticed that practitioners were spending too much time typing up recordings, which weren’t always necessary for supporting young people or evidencing best practice. It was difficult for practitioners to draw boundaries around the level of detail they should to go into when recording information, and their habits of spending long hours in deskwork gained its own momentum – their roles started gravitating around administrative duties, as opposed to centring on the direct, impactful work with young people. In order to shift this bureaucratic culture, the team looked for a technological solution, and decided to trial voice-recording software for capturing and recording case notes. This software allowed practitioners to dictate their recollections of meetings with young people shortly after it takes place, to be reviewed, modified and uploaded into case recording software back at the office. The method is less time-intensive than typing out case notes, and the format encourages practitioners to be more efficient when choosing what to record, which should primarily be those notes appropriate for statutory requirements. Furthermore, young people are more likely to contribute to the case notes if they can speak into phone software (as opposed to being asked to type something out) and so this new way of working opens up greater opportunities for young people to contribute more meaningfully to their own case files. The team have been supported in trialing this new way of working through the enthusiasm of senior leaders, who have encouraged the team to approach all aspects of their service in new and creative ways, in search of innovation. They’ve also committed resourcing to this goal, freeing up funds to purchase a series of software licenses.

Tower Hamlets

Develop partner agency roles as part of a network and work to share note taking/ make best use of partner agencies for direct work

Social workers across a Family Support and Protection team had been feeling that Core Group Meetings for Child Protection Plans weren’t operating as effectively as they could be, due the the imbalance of roles between the social worker and other professionals. The social worker was expected to both chair and minute-take the meetings, which often meant they struggled to effectively balance their twin responsibilities of directing the conversation and recording the most important minutes. Other professionals often deferred to the social worker when it came to questions around safeguarding and safety concerns, which left them feeling even further overburdened. There was a lack of professional confidence that prevented them from taking more active roles in the meetings. In order to address this lack of confidence, the social workers, in consultation with other agencies, developed a minute-taking template and guide, which instructed the minute-taker which elements of the meeting were the most important to record, and how to do so. The team believe that this template will amplify other agencies’ sense of buy-in to the Core Group Meetings, which will also increase their sense of accountability to the social worker, and the safeguarding of the child or young person in discussion.

Develop ways to celebrate success/ provide positive feedback as a team

Syeda, a social worker in a Child Protection team, was inspired by the Crescendo approach to develop a culture of celebrating successes and providing positive feedback across her service. When beginning the process for identifying and delivering small changes, she was motivated by the extent to which every person involved across the local authority reiterated that change was positive, desirable and possible; how could that energy be preserved and replicated long-term, and how could they live up to the values they identified – of being kind and supportive of one-another? Syeda started nominating her colleagues for staff awards, and encouraged others to do the same. The local authority’s Social Work Academy were planning a series of events for World Social Work Day and Syeda developed a series of celebrations to complement the existing content. Syeda also reached out to other services across the local authority and to external agencies, asking for any specific examples of where they’d witnessed great social work practice, ensuring that, even when moments of good practice weren’t observed by colleagues, they could still be acknowledged and celebrated. Though Syeda has now left the local authority, she started seeing colleagues and managers positively recognising each other in meetings more before her departure, and is confident that the cultural changes she helped initiate will endure.

Create a shared drive of commonly needed forms, direct work resources and community resources, and collate one referral form for in-house services

Social workers across a Child Protection team identified that their shared drive was inaccessible and unstructured, which dissuaded practitioners across the service from using the platform. Social workers were confused as to which versions of documents and templates were the most accurate and up-to-date (due to a lack of awareness around version control and archiving), and many of them were locked out entirely.

Maintenance of the shared drive didn’t sit directly under one team or individual’s responsibilities, and so nobody had oversight of its upkeep. This led to social workers duplicating responsibilities (by developing documents that already existed), and they struggled to access the resources that were available to them. Furthermore, social workers were finding that the process for referring families to different internal services was cumbersome, and required duplicating information that was already available on their system, since each service required the completion of a different form. The social workers encouraged the Business Support team to take on oversight for the upkeep of the shared drive, and asked them to develop a series of principles that users should follow when adapting the resources stored there. They hope that these changes will make the shared drive more accessible and fit for purpose, and social workers will subsequently make better use of the resources stored there. This should support them to spend less time navigating documents at their desk, and more time in direct practice with children and families.

Introducing a new duty system

Social workers across a Children in Care team believed their rota system was not fit for purpose – they found it cumbersome to manage, since two social workers had to be appointed individually for each day, and there was no standardised method for how they were allocated. There were consistent problems with gaps that couldn’t be filled and last-minute requests for changes, which they struggled to grant, and which caused frictions in the team culture. In order to tackle this, the team developed a new way of working, centred around trust and accountability. The social workers sorted themselves into teams of 3, where each social worker covered the same day of the week each week. The managers agreed with the proposal, and even encouraged the social workers to be bolder; they suggested the duty practitioners adopt a self-managing model, where the teams of 3 decide how to cover duty on their day. The only rules they had to follow were that:

  • Duty had to be covered.
  • They must ask for coaching support if they can’t resolve disagreements about how they work together.
  • A leader mustn’t emerge.

The feedback the team managers received around the change was overwhelmingly positive. The wider local authority were reassured when they discovered that the new way of working led to consistently full rota coverage, which meant that children and families in need of urgent support could ensure they was always someone available to pick up the phone. And social workers felt empowered and trusted to manage their own time and resourcing effectively.

Meeting invites

In order to request support with coordinating a complex meeting featuring multiple stakeholders, social workers in a Looked After Children service had to complete a long and arduous administrative form for their Business Support team. The process was so complex and cumbersome that they often ended up arranging the meeting themselves, despite the pressures it put on their time. The team felt that the service, which should have been alleviating the need to spend time at their desks, were actually contributing to their administrative load. In order to develop a new way of working, the social workers collaborated with their managers and the business support colleagues to streamline the process; following a series of constructive conversations, they discovered that the biggest unnecessary blockage was that the business support service felt the need to return the requested information around attendance and dates to the social worker for approval, before they could send it on externally. In order to mitigate against this, the social workers encouraged their business support colleagues to keep a record of previous requests, so that they could action repeated requests quickly, and with only a brief sign-off required from the social worker. This new way of working ensured that the business support service felt like they had all the information they needed accessible at their fingertips, and the social workers saw their administrative load go down following submission of a form – not up.


Changing the invite form

Lisa, an Independent Review Officer (IRO) with over 20 years’ experience working in children’s social care, was tired of grappling with the unwieldy Child in Care Review invite form. The cumbersome and bureaucratic process for inviting family members and professionals to these Reviews hadn’t changed at all over the decades, even as advances in technology should have made such ways of working obsolete. The review form required constant coordination and back-and-forth between the administrative assistant and different social workers to ensure that the right people were invited, addresses were correct and GDPR was adhered to. Emails went unanswered. Addresses and contact details had to be checked, then re-checked, and checked again. So much time could pass by the time the form was completed that another check had to be carried out to ensure invitees hadn’t moved addresses within the timeframe. Lisa’s administrative assistant estimated that the whole process could take up to 400 emails to resolve. In response, and empowered by her local authority and the Crescendo team to start making small changes, Lisa gathered together senior managers, IROs, social workers, administrative assistants and the Mosaic team to decide on a new way of working. She first suggested they agree on one central narrative to guide their work; the Review isn’t the social worker’s meeting, nor the IRO’s meeting, it’s the child’s meeting – and they needed the Review to happen quickly, efficiently and with the correct people in attendance. With that principle in mind, Lisa worked with each stakeholder to design a new invite process that would be more efficient and rigorous, whilst still addressing the concerns of each group and representing the interests of the child. They quickly decided that there was scope to integrate the form with Mosaic, the local authority’s Case Management System, and got to work with the Mosaic Development team to design the infrastructure. The new way of working encompassed a range of enablers that contributed to efficiency:

All stakeholders would now work off the same document, monitoring each other’s progress in real-time.

Many of the fields were pre-filled with variables that could be pulled from other parts of the system and existing case notes.

Since this change was implemented, children have been seeing their Review meetings arranged faster, smarter and more accurately with respect to who’s in attendance. Social workers, IROs and, especially, the administrative assistants, found their administrative burden around these meetings greatly reduced, allowing them to spend time on other, more impactful tasks – they also became much more comfortable with generating efficiency through Mosaic development. And everyone involved began to see the positive impact they could have on their service through developing and delivering small changes.