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The Power to Innovate

In 2011, the Munro Review of Child protection was published, entitled A Child Centred System, which was warmly welcomed by those of us delivering children’s services in local authorities.

In 2016, we finally have a chance to do just as Munro described. Redesign the way we deliver services to ensure that children are at the centre of it. It’s no wonder she supports the Power to Innovate clause in the Children and Social Work Bill which would introduce measures to exempt councils from some statutory duties for three years to test new ways of working. It’s no wonder that every Practice Leader I speak to supports this innovation power.

I speak to many local authorities who have made huge progress in how they deliver children’s services and we see lots of commonality when it is working well. In my own authority in Lincolnshire, our innovation centres around Signs of Safety and I am seeing the best early help and social work in my 27 year career. But, we shoehorn it into existing legislation and guidance, we need to be able to redesign services free of all the years of incremental change that has left us with a disconnected, bureaucratic system that insists we do things that don’t make much sense.

I understand the concerns. We don’t want to erode children’s and families’ rights. We don’t want to disregard years of learning and the lessons from when things go wrong. But we have a system built from this bottom line, we need to build from when things are being done right. This is essential to local authorities to innovate where they can demonstrate a track record of good delivery, where they do their utmost to keep children safe, meet their needs and improve their outcomes. Of course it needs safeguards, that isn’t in question.

But, how have we arrived in the position where those who aren’t responsible for the day to day challenges of delivering services, determine what we shouldn’t try?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a great believer in scrutiny, challenge and accountability, but that works two ways. Greater weight of consideration should be given to those Practice Leaders and local authorities delivering statutory services each and every day who want the Power to Innovate. Let them innovate and then apply the challenge and scrutiny, it makes no sense in advance.

@socialworktutor reminded me of a saying the other day in an article where they describe criticism, that is so apt for how this feels, “Anyone can burn down a barn, but not everyone can build one.”

Many Practice Leaders like myself are trying to build that barn, but it might get burnt down before we even have the design done. That would be a disaster for the sector and a disaster for children who deserve to have services built with them at the centre. This is our chance as a sector to test out better ways of delivering social care. It may be our only chance in a generation.

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