| Linda Hutchinson
Stockport Family: A fully integrated children’s services based on restorative practice
On the Ideas Hub we champion community based stories and developments. Stories about people and places rather than services. Yet we know that in order for initiatives to flourish, the ‘services’ can help create the right environment or at least allow them to happen.
Stockport Family is one such example. A set of statutory services were transformed, integrated and refocused on empowerment. It is a truly inspiring story.
Stockport Family is a single service with over 500 people working across health, social care, safeguarding, fostering and adoption and education. It is an example of integration that others can only dream about. Not only that, everyone has undergone training in restorative practice, a form of asset or strengths based approach, further transforming and unifying their whole mode of practice and bringing further benefits.
So how did they do it? Kate Fitzhugh, the Principal Lead for Transformation, who has been there since the early discussions several years ago, describes many different aspects and doesn’t pretend it has all been easy. Here are some of the main elements that seem to have made it successful. You can also read more in our interview with Kate.
Kate talks about the leadership team as being a group of like-minded people who completely bought into the whole idea of integration and the benefits it would bring. This meant they were all invested in making the change from the outset and could help take their organisations and staff with them. The inevitable resistances within some organisations and staff groups were overcome one by one by this unity of purpose at leadership level. People could support each other, come together to problem solve and help share the load.
Deborah Woodcock is a key figure, part of the development over the years and appointed to the role of Stockport Family Director of Operations in Feb 2016. A passionate advocate for a different way of working, she sets the tone for collaboration, communication and authenticity. Every Monday she sends an email to all staff with news, ideas and stories. She is an avid tweeter and her timeline is full of positive messages and shout outs about great things happening in Stockport.
Common language, common ethos
It is here that the Stockport Family really stands out. They were able to invest in their workforce. Using funding won through a grant from the Department for Education, all staff have been able to have a training programme on Restorative Practice delivered by Mark Finnis. It has helped change the way they are working with families as well as providing a unifying ethos and language for all. The training has now been spread to other people working with children too, more than 1,500 people to date.
It is striking how the restorative, positive, gentler approach is also evident in how people in Stockport Family behave to each other. Learning circles have replaced many meetings. Conversations are action and solution based not hampered by delays while someone draws up the options paper. Co-location means true communal working, not just working alongside each other. As Kate says “we no longer have labels in the fridge saying ‘don’t touch my milk’.”
This sense of community is enhanced by a few well chosen ‘catchphrases’. Just as film buffs connect with each other by quoting lines from their favourite films, Stockport Family people use their phrases: “team around the school”, “with not to or for”, “all the time, on purpose” and one we have featured before, “never waste a mistake”. Full of meaning by themselves, they are also tangible threads that unite everyone.
Change methodology – AGILE
By coincidence, Stockport Council had a Digital by Design change programme in place at the same time as Stockport Family was being developed. AGILE is a change technique well known in the technology world. Kate and others, including those from ThoughtWorks, the technology consultancy in Stockport at the time, wondered if this could be adapted as a tool for change for other areas and a few people were trained up as AGILE coaches. This has helped ‘de-risk’ change by making it possible to try out small quick changes rather than the cumbersome planning, business cases and options appraisals we all familiar with. It is, as its name suggests, agile.
This all sits within a strong learning culture. Everyone is willing to take the best ideas from all over – within and without Stockport. It is common to have conversations that both celebrate the good things (tell me what is going well) and together think about what can be improved (tell me 3 things to do better).
What has changed for people?
It is early days yet and the formal evaluations are in progress. Certainly there is a happy, engaged and dedicated workforce who are all committed to different ways of working with children, young people and families.
Over time it is expected that there will be fewer family breakdowns, better health and education outcomes for children and reduced crime and anti-social behaviour.
We’ll be publishing an interview with Kate later this week and will update on any news on this fantastic project.