Ask the Experts: Coping with an extra workload

Our panel offers advice on taking on extra duties, developing participation work, bullying at youth clubs and motivating nursery staff.

Question: I'm currently a director of children's services but, as part of the cuts, have been asked to take on a new director of people role. It feels risky. How do I make it work?

Peter Lewis: It feels risky because it is. But there are opportunities as well. Some of the risk is to do with scale. In smaller, unitary authorities, the benefits of integration and better transition between services can be huge. Better cross-council working is also possible.

In larger and two-tier councils, volume of work and range/scope can add dangerous complexity. Linking with second tier councils can be a challenge when there are four or more in your area and keeping track of high-risk cases can be much harder. Add in high-risk adult cases plus the fact service users and their families are often more litigious and this is a massive load for one person.

It is essential you are clear on the precise scope, scale and responsibilities of the role. It is equally vital to ensure your top team is shaped to provide good support and cover.

Peter Lewis is a freelance providing interim local authority children's services leadership, and a former DCS in Haringey

Question: I work with children in care and am keen to develop some rights-based participation work with them. My manager isn't keen as she feels this will encourage them to complain about staff. How do I move this forward?

Jeanie Lynch: All local authorities have a statutory duty to provide independent advocacy and participation opportunities for children and young people in care. These rights apply to children and young people regardless of whether they are placed in the statutory, voluntary or private sector.

Any organisation working with children in care must have a transparent and easy-to-access complaints procedure to help them to speak out when things go wrong. Your manager needs to understand it is part of her role to enable them to do this. Children who are listened to are more likely to feel part of their care plan and less likely to feel the need to complain. Ultimately, giving children in care a voice helps keep them safe.

Participation can take many forms, from running groups to gathering the views of individual children. Some authorities fund independent providers to deliver this service, while some use internal resources such as youth services. Talk to your local complaints manager about ways of engaging children and young people.

Jeanie Lynch works for Barnardo's and has 25 years' experience of working with vulnerable children and families

Question: My youth club has developed a successful apprenticeship scheme with local companies. One of our young people went to work with an undertakers and another with the town's pest control team but both were bullied and teased and have now stopped attending the club. What can I do?

Tracie Trimmer-Platman: On the face of it, these may not seem like desirable occupations, but both roles are essential and careers with good prospects. Those who mock and bully others usually do so from a lack of understanding or out of jealousy. You don't say whether there was a selection process for this apprenticeship programme, but some of the bullies may feel they have missed out in some way.

Arrange a presentation or celebration of the apprenticeships so others can appreciate the skills the participants have gained as well as the potential for future employment. Involve guest speakers from the businesses to explain what they do, why it is important and the professionalism involved.

The apprentices need support and advocacy to keep them motivated and their sense of achievement must be shared and admired.

Tracie Trimmer-Platman is senior lecturer in youth and community work at the University of East London

Question: I want to get my nursery staff into a positive mood to face the coming year. Any ideas?

June O'Sullivan: Most staff like a clear sense of direction, so begin by agreeing the strategic objectives for the setting. Use a range of activities to engage them in this process and then agree and write a one-page summary of the things you want to improve this year.

Look at how you are going to achieve your objectives. For example, if one of your goals is to increase the number of children using the nursery, think about how to achieve this. Get your team to share ideas and agree an action plan. Use this to allocate budget and areas of responsibility to individual staff members, which can be linked to their annual targets and continuing professional development.

Stick to no more than four targets and make them Smart (specific, manageable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted). There is nothing more demotivating for staff than to be faced with endless targets with no way of checking progress and no celebration to acknowledge completion.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of the childcare charity and social enterprise, the London Early Years Foundation

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