Ross Hendry has spent more than a decade at the forefront of policymaking in children's services. His appointment at Spurgeons is his first chief executive role, having joined in 2014 from the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England where he spent five years as deputy chief executive. Spurgeons is a 150-year-old faith-based charity that runs around 80 services across the UK, including 50 children's centres, family contact services in prisons and provision for young carers.
What impact are council cuts having on children's centres run by Spurgeons?
I sympathise with local authorities. We've tried to work collaboratively with them to understand what they want to achieve and how they can best use resources.
We've been told about the levels of deficits they are running and that they have to make tough choices - but decisions are being driven by finance rather than outcomes and wellbeing of communities.
It's more constructive if you can enter a dialogue with authorities and work out a new way of providing a service. Many of these families are isolated and a children's centre closing could make that worse.
Could government help by producing its delayed strategy for the future of children's centres?
Authorities may close children's centres because they don't have to provide them; decide to protect them because they are an important part of the community; or evolve them into care and health hubs. Each response is an expression of an authority's attitude to early intervention.
No strategy is a silver bullet. Where an authority is lukewarm, it doesn't matter what strategy documents exist. If you haven't won over the hearts and minds of leaders and commissioners, I'd question whether [the services] are going to work.
Do you think the funding environment will improve for early intervention soon?
Some people think we're in the middle of a funding and government policy storm at the moment and that we just need to ride that out. This is not a storm, it is climate change.
There's a different relationship between government and parts of the community and we're still finding where we fit into that new climate. Government is going to be less directional - instead, it wants to be aspirational about what is achieved by local providers - and local authorities are going to have more discretion about what they provide.
The previous way of operating was built up over several decades - this is a shock to the system and it will take time to acclimatise.
How do you work with councils to help them deliver more efficient and effective services?
We can reach parts of the community the statutory sector struggles to reach, such as people who have negative perceptions of social services. We can be more of an advocate, supporter and enabler. It helps us understand the holistic needs of families.
We do not see the contract as the end point - we see it as an opportunity to engage with these families. We can then look at bringing in volunteers as peer mentors to work alongside families and use institutions like the church to plug people into the community.
When do you know if you are the right organisation to deliver a service?
When we bid to run a service or a local authority says we need to make changes, the questions I ask are: what are the needs of the community; what outcomes are you trying to achieve; and how do you want to meet those outcomes?
We've developed an outcomes framework based on a New Philanthropy Capital model. It aims to give every child a better future, use evidence-based interventions to achieve that; and assess if we've done that through the use of respected measuring tools. That framework is going to be applied to every one of our services.
What changes have you introduced?
When I started I saw amazing work being done by our staff and services, but we weren't able to explain what impact we were having.
There are two things I'm really pushing: how do we know we are having the best impact we can positively achieve; and that this has to be done within the context of our Christian values.
The risk is that charities could become pseudo public or private sector bodies and lose their unique identities. That is why I have been keen to look at our roots, identity and ethos.
The wider voluntary sector risks changing in a way that loses that distinctness which would be a tragedy.
Is there room for faith-based values in the tough contracting world of children's services?
In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was pressure to dilute our identity. I think that's changing now. More and more public sector organisations and local authorities are realising that a lot of their community have some faith - not necessarily Christian faith.
Our staff value the transparency and commitment to our values - something we've lived with for 150 years and we're really well placed to understand that faith is not about a membership of a club. It is part of people's identity and you need to understand that if you want to properly help them.
Authorities are recognising that is something really valuable we can bring to the table.
ROSS HENDRY CV
- 2014: Chief executive, Spurgeons
- 2009-14: Deputy chief executive, Office of the Children's Commissioner for England
- 2006-09: Head of public policy, Action for Children
- 2001-06: Policy officer, Unison
- 1999-01: Policy officer, London Councils
- 1996-99: Research officer, London School of Economics