Vision of a grand coalition

Neil Puffett
Monday, May 12, 2014

Neil Puffett meets Javed Khan, chief executive at Barnardo's.

Javed Khan said there is a lack of awareness of young carers among teachers that urgently needs addressing. Picture: Alex Deverill
Javed Khan said there is a lack of awareness of young carers among teachers that urgently needs addressing. Picture: Alex Deverill

Javed Khan has not had the smoothest start to his Barnardo's career. The new chief executive took the helm at the children's charity at the start of May, having informed Victim Support in November of his intention to leave. The notice period was disrupted, however, when an article published in The Mail on Sunday in January reported allegations that he took a gang armed with automatic rifles to settle a "long-running land dispute" in his native Pakistan.

The article prompted independent investigations by both Victim Support and Barnardo's, each of which found no evidence of wrongdoing on Khan's part. Clarifying the incident, Khan tells CYP Now that, contrary to the "malicious allegations", he and his family resolved the land dispute with the "full support of the authorities".

"As I expected, I was totally exonerated in both inquiries and, therefore, the matter is now closed," he says. "Obviously something like that isn't helpful, but we all live in the real world. When you are going to be chief executive of an organisation of this scale, media scrutiny is something you expect. And if you don't, you should.

"I suppose it was just part of that."

Khan, who grew up in Birmingham and began his career as a maths teacher, is now intent on focusing on the future of Barnardo's. The organisation already has a three-year strategic plan in place - drawn up by his predecessor Ann Marie-Carrie - covering the 2013-16 period. Some incoming chief executives might feel this ties their hands in making changes, but it has afforded Khan an opportunity to look further ahead. In light of the significant challenges facing the sector over the coming years, his vision is both radical and ambitious.

"Trying to balance increasing demand with decreasing resources is a major challenge and not for the faint-hearted," says Khan, who was also a non-executive board member at the Children's Workforce Development Council up until its termination in 2012.

"If you look at what is going on around the country, some local authorities are just 'top-slicing' - cutting 30 per cent and thinking it's going to solve the problem. It isn't. The worst of the cuts don't hit until 2017/18. All the low-hanging fruit has already been taken away."

Khan believes a fundamental reorganisation of children's services is now necessary. His plan is for Barnardo's to partner with local authorities and help them organise and deliver services for children and young people.

"The future has got to be about how you invite an organisation like Barnardo's to the table of the thinking, the planning, the rethinking and then service commissioning right at the core of everything that the children's services sector needs to be about.

"It's organisations like Barnardo's that are big enough, experienced enough, knowledgeable enough about what the right thing to do is from the frontline that can be part of that right at the start as a strategic partner."

Significant change ahead

Khan says it could represent a significant change for how Barnardo's works.

"It might mean there are things we need to stop doing, because if you are going to be at the heart of that re-imagining and be a strategic partner to a children's services director and a local authority, you can't necessarily be the deliverer as well.

"And that's okay. I think that might be the future. That might be an organisational challenge for us that we need to embrace.

"But we might want to be within a consortium, a much more team-based approach alongside other charities and voluntary sector organisations, and the private sector might be included too."

He says Barnardo's has an opportunity to lead that rethinking, in partnership with the commissioners, and only then has it got a chance of trying to meet the challenge.

"If we carry on doing more of the same, it's not sustainable; it just can't be done. There are many examples up and down the country where local authorities are really in difficulty and can't make the books balance, can't meet the demand.

"Ofsted is hovering all the time over them, all kinds of sticks are being used to push them in the right direction.

"I think we have a great opportunity to rethink some of that."

The chance to do that has appeared straight away, with Khan likely to feed in his ideas to the ongoing government consultation on outsourcing children's services, which closes on 30 May. Some fear the proposals could lead to greater commercial involvement in children's services and child protection - effectively privatisation. But Khan believes the voluntary sector is far more suited to teaming up with local authorities.

"The values of an organisation like ours have a great alignment with the values of the public sector," he says.

"Our only shareholders are the people who deliver these services on the frontline and the people that we deliver them to. They are the people that matter to us.

"Our only profit is the impact we have on those children - saving their lives, helping improve their life chances. That really chimes well with the public sector that is having to manage this conundrum. It's not about money to us, it's about the impact we make."

Despite not being driven by money, it appears that Barnardo's itself is in rude financial health. Accounts for 2013/14 are yet to be published, but the charity made a surplus of £6.2m in 2012/13 - all of which was invested in priority service areas.

But many other charities are struggling. A National Children's Bureau report from 2012 estimated that the 34,000 charities in the children and young people's sector face combined public funding cuts of £405m in the period up to 2015/16. Khan is well aware of the situation and feels Barnardo's has a role to play in helping by "sharing resources" and "offering shelter" to smaller organisations that may not be able to survive on their own.

"There are lots of small organisations out there that do really good work, small local community groups that have made an impact in their own way that are suffering at the moment and find it difficult to sustain what they are doing.

"I think a bold organisation like Barnardo's, with its scope and breadth and resources, ought to be able to offer shelter to those organisations in these turbulent times.

"Who they are and what they do and how closely they are aligned to what we do is a matter for debate and discussion, but I'm really interested in putting out the hand of friendship and collaboration to those organisations out there and seeing how we can work more closely together than perhaps any of us had imagined in the past."

Early intervention work

More immediately, the charity is boosting its early intervention work, launching training for staff in its network of children's centres to use five key techniques to boost outcomes for children - the "five to thrive" programme.

"I think it is scandalous that the life chances of children are still a lottery - where you happen to be born, the family you happen to be born to, the school you go to, the care services that are available to you or not.

"It is absolutely appalling that in 2014 children are still within a lottery that is not of their choice, so there are huge amounts of work to do."

Barnardo's is also working on a new digital strategy, hot on the heels of teaming up with Microsoft last month to launch the Wud U? - a software app to help teach young people about the dangers of child sexual exploitation.

"Any organisation that works with young people has to be digitally very sophisticated," Khan says.

"I can imagine the strategy is going to be heavily biased towards much more of that kind of work."

Javed Khan CV

  • Khan grew up in Birmingham and studied maths at the University of Salford, before going on to teach in his home city
  • In 2000, he became assistant director of education at Birmingham City Council, before joining the London borough of Harrow as director of education in December 2003
  • Khan went on to be executive director to the London Serious Youth Violence Board at the Government Office for London between 2009 and 2010
  • He then joined Victim Support as chief executive in 2010, where he stayed until joining Barnardo's
  • Khan was also a non-executive board member at the Children's Workforce Development Council between April 2010 and June 2012

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