Councils are no longer legally required to produce children and young people’s plans. But for Eoin Rush, assistant director for children’s specialist services at York Council, the city’s plan is what binds professionals together and helped its safeguarding services secure an overall rating of “good” from Ofsted and an outstanding grade for its “exceptional” partnership working.
“It really is the glue for all the agencies,” he says. “You’ll hear the plan referenced by all partners and held in some esteem because the agencies can see their vision and values clearly articulated in there. It resonates because it’s less concerned with organisational structure and more concerned with describing what good looks like for children and young people in York.”
The bedrock of the plan is how the council and its partners sought to establish a shared vision of what counts as a good outcome. “The process started with really extensive conversations with young people, parents and carers,” says Rush.
“If you think of the plan as developing over six to nine months, the first five months were just about getting out into the community and talking to children, young people, parents and practitioners to find out what they think good looks like for children and young people. Once we had that information, it started to become much easier for agencies to decide what their relative contribution would be to achieve those outcomes and what synergies there might be between services.”
The result, says Rush, is a vision that all agencies subscribe to, but that also makes clear what each service can contribute: “It’s the opposite to my experience in some other authorities where you start by trying to construct a formula to get people to work together and then add the outcomes later. That doesn’t work, people won’t come to meetings for the sake of it, instead they’ll retrench into their own areas and you lose the benefit of the whole.”
Surprisingly, perhaps, the fact that York receives a relatively low funding settlement from central government can be helpful in encouraging partnership working, says Rush. “It helps people to innovate and think how their role might be delivered in a way that gets over hurdles like resource shortfalls,” he says.
For example, the council decided that the money from the troubled families initiative should be used to strengthen the city’s existing early intervention and prevention work rather than being used to create a new troubled families team. “What you get by doing that is people embracing these initiatives with some energy rather than thinking ‘here’s yet another thing we have to implement’,” he says.
Another benefit is the co-location of services. Safeguarding referrals, for example, are handled by a team of social workers, health professionals, police and early intervention specialists who work as a single team in the same location. Rush says this saves money and time, and also means the professions gain a better understanding of what others can contribute and a shared understanding of how to handle each case.
The common vision also helped York get an outstanding grade for capacity to improve. “People here want the best for young people and when something doesn’t work out, they feel comfortable enough to be able to examine their own practice in front of their partners,” Rush says. “And because all agencies are involved, the improvements that emerge are not imposed but embraced and owned.”
- Location York
- Description While incomes in York are lower than the national average, it has a below-average level of unemployment and 40 per cent of residents live in areas that are among the 20 per cent least ?deprived in England. York receives a low level of national funding for children’s services. Its children’s trust was formed in 2003 and its safeguarding children board was founded in 2006.
- Number of children 37,700 children aged from birth to 18, with 250 looked-after children at the time of inspection.
- Ofsted inspection unique reference number n/a
- Get schools to work together. York’s schools have teamed up to create an ?education partnership that assistant director Eoin Rush describes as “a key ingredient in our overall strategy”. Schools have all ?contributed to funding a safeguarding officer who helps schools in the city to better understand the child protection agenda.
- People – not protocols – make great partnerships. “It is people, not policies and protocols, that make partnerships work and if you get the relationships between the people right and they have a shared ?vision for children and young people, the policies and protocols start to matter less,” says Rush. “If you become overly dependent on the protocols, it starts to go wrong.”
- Make work with elected members transparent. Ofsted’s inspector said York needs to “strengthen the active engagement” of elected members, so the council has made its engagement with councillors more transparent and systematic. “Since the inspection, we have created a new ?corporate parenting board, which is ?scrutinising on a twice-termly basis the progress we are making against our action plan for our looked-after children and holding officers to account for some of the outcomes that are achieved,” says Rush.