Leadership: Improved joint working will save time and money in Harrow

As the budget cuts start to bite, the services we provide for children and families face huge change, in terms of finance and policy.

In Harrow, we have been anticipating both of these for some time and have, since June, been working on an innovative new model to take children's services forward.

Our challenge is to change the way we do things to avoid simply cutting services. This will require a major restructure that will enable us to continue to deliver first-class outcomes for those who need it most.

When I joined in February 2010, I was faced with a department that, despite already operating with limited funding compared with other London boroughs, was excellent. However, it was not working as a whole. It was operating in traditional silos, spread across six different sites. It was clear that, with shrinking budgets and staffing levels, maintaining the status quo was not an option.

So now we need to become more streamlined and maximise our limited resources through better commissioning, robust procurement and greater working with the third sector. We want to develop better, more targeted early intervention work from multi-disciplinary teams, which will reduce the need for high-cost specialist services. We are looking to evidence-based practice to allow us to focus on services we know make a difference.

The past six months have been a hive of activity, with wide-ranging research and consultations involving young people, families, partners and, most importantly, staff. The resulting proposals will be implemented in phases from the end of October. On the cards is a redesign of almost all of our services, but with two key elements: a single point of access and integrated early intervention teams.

The single point of access will be a referral point for all targeted services in Harrow, reducing bureaucracy and improving efficiency. A multi-disciplinary team will deal with referrals to all areas of the service and will also work as part of a safeguarding information hub, working together with the police public protection desk and child protection teams. We are in discussion with other services with the aim of bringing them on board too.

Early intervention will be the key to the new way of working. Staff from across the department will work as part of a "team around the family" and "lead professional" model, delivering interventions with a strong evidence base.

With these new teams we can bring together a breadth of knowledge from across the sector to create a truly effective, efficient early intervention service that ensures the relevant agencies are working with families and young people from the earliest possible stage.

The restructure is largely funded from within our budget. Within two years, we expect to be saving in the region of £1.3m a year which, on a budget of about £40m, is going to make a significant difference on top of greatly improved services.

It is going to be a difficult couple of years, but our challenge is to continue to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children and young people for years to come.

Catherine Doran, corporate director of children's services, Harrow



  • Get creative Fewer statutory guidelines coupled with greater flexibility means that there is more scope for developing new, creative models of working with children
  • Remain child-focused With budget and staffing pressures, it is important to remember that the needs of vulnerable children should be at the core of what you do. Build the model around their needs
  • Do your research We spoke to more than 500 young people, parents, staff and partners. A further 250 responded to our consultation and we undertook wide ranging research looking into best practice across the sector
  • Look closely at how you procure and commission services By centralising this element of our department, we have immediately been able to identify £300,000 of savings
  • Make the most of the partnerships available Our colleagues from the police, health and the voluntary sector made valuable contributions to our consultation and will be working much more closely with us as part of the new model
  • Forget the traditional silos that have existed across the sector for so long Multi-disciplinary teams can save time, money and provide a more seamless service for children, young people and families

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