It’s all about trust

So what do we mean by trust?

Ask someone to define ‘trust’ and you’ll get a variety of answers. The dictionary tells us that ‘trust’ is a ‘reliance on the integrity, strength, confidence and ability of something/someone’. Trust implies depth, assurance and a feeling of certainty that a person or thing will not fail.

Trust is essential in delivering the best children’s services. Trust within our workforce goes both ways – social workers must trust in the leadership of services, and they must be trusted to get on and do the job that they came into the profession to do. The individuals who make up the children’s social care workforce have the opportunity to have a genuinely life-changing impact on our most vulnerable children. They will often find themselves to be the one person in a child’s life who is both trusted enough to understand the problems the child faces and also skilled and confident enough to bring about the change that is needed to address them.

We need the trust and confidence that our services deliver the best possible outcomes for children and their families at a local level. We need political support, confidence and trust that we will make the right decisions for children and their families despite the current financial landscape.

Trust is an essential element in team productivity. Without it, you’re unlikely to get anything meaningful done. But with it, teams can accomplish everything they set out to do ... and more. As a leader, it’s important that you set an example. Show your team members how critical trust is to you by demonstrating your trust in them, as well as in your colleagues.

Yet the type of trusts the government is talking about in the world of children’s services today couldn’t be further away from this notion of trust.

In ‘Children’s Social Care Reform: A Vision for Change’ the Department for Education (DfE) sets out its ambition to establish diverse and dynamic children’s social care organisations; reform arrangements across agencies for the coordination and accountability of services and responsibilities for safeguarding children; and intervene swiftly and decisively to turn around failing organisations.

Putting Children First’ sets out the DfE’s intention that where councils do not have the capacity or capability to improve children’s social care services within a reasonable timeframe, they will remove those services from council control, delegate functions and transfer them to a not-for-profit organisation (usually a trust) in order to secure sustainable improvement.

While I agree that we cannot allow failure in children’s services, I can’t help but think that by outsourcing these services and forcing local authorities into these trust arrangements, that there is little ‘reliance or confidence’ being shown in them and their capacity to improve. Removing children’s services from direct control of local authorities can cause them to lose their identity and has significant implications for local democracy and the role of elected members. In addition, the indications from other councils are that far from representing a swift and decisive move, each of these trusts took over a year to set up and incurred extra financial costs.

Besides a general message that ‘something must be done’ there is little evidence to date to support the ability of the independent trust to improve services so they deliver better outcomes for children. Irrespective of their success or otherwise, government expects to see more ‘not-for-profit’ trusts leading children’s services in a single authority, or having the responsibility for all children’s social care services in a combined authority area. It is also likely that we will see trusts delivering a sub-set of children’s social care services, for example, for leaving care services. This doesn’t sit comfortably with the DfE ambition that, by 2020, over a third of all current local authorities will either be delivering their children’s services through a new model or be actively working towards a different model.

I agree that in extreme circumstances a radical, structural solution is needed to kick start improvement and in our austere times a range of new organisational models, from shared services to combined authorities can offer efficiencies and much needed savings.

However, where this will have the biggest impact is through better self-awareness of performance, understanding our strengths and weaknesses and in the sharing of best practice. Through our collaborative regional arrangements and partners in practice we are harnessing experience and expertise within a self-improving system. Across the children’s services sector we share a passion to improve outcomes for our children. We have the knowledge and experience to develop bespoke arrangements which suit individual circumstances and drive each improvement journey.

Perhaps all we need is to be trusted …

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