The turn of the New Year is a time for many to look back at the previous year and also to look ahead to future challenges. I've been considering this recently, whilst thinking about the complexity of working with children, young people and families, and how it's possible to develop a culture where we put as much emphasis on celebrating good practice and achievement as we do on committing to learning from mistakes.
No one working in children's services does it for the reward and recognition. There are many more people working tirelessly for children, young people and families than could ever be given an award, but the reality is, like most parts of our strained public services, the safety, wellbeing and outcomes for our children depend on people going over and above the call of duty, day after day, for little or no reward. It's our job as leaders to ensure that we recognise and acknowledge this.
That's why I was personally delighted to see some recognition in the New Year's Honours list for colleagues who have made an immense contribution to services and outcomes for children. Not because they are the only people worthy of such accolades, but because it is a recognition of the skill, bravery and commitment of all those who strive to safeguard, support, and promote the wellbeing of children, young people and families up and down the country.
None of us get it right all of the time. The work we do is complex, unrelenting and challenging and it is only getting more so. Our frontline practitioners make important decisions every day, many of which have to be taken without perfect knowledge and which rely on their judgment and experience. We make mistakes because we are human but our role as leaders is surely to promote the right sort of positive error culture, which means we reflect, learn, highlight good practice and create the right conditions for good decisions to be taken.
I think there are four parts to this:
- Accepting that mistakes will be made and that we reflect and learn from them. We should create a culture of learning and support that enables our skilled, committed professionals to work with our families.
- Taking more time to recognise and highlight good practice, focus more on good outcomes and learn from these, just as much as we do when things don't go well.
- Rewarding those professionals across all of our services who do outstanding work. For many, this will not be receipt of an award, (and some would not want this at all) but it might be a word of thanks or a note of appreciation to acknowledge a job well done.
- Ensuring the right support and tools are there - the systems, the extra support, the forms, the ICT - to enable our skilled and committed workforce to continually improve and ensure they are able to spend more time where they can make the most difference working with the families who need our help and support.
As we embark on what will undoubtedly be another extremely challenging year, it is more important than ever that we continue to recognise our role in using the power of reflection, recognition and reward as part of our commitment to building a workforce fit for a country that works for all children, young people and families.
That's a resolution I hope we can all make.
Martin Gray is director of children's services at Stockton Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website