Family Valued – a new approach to children’s social care in Leeds

Nigel Richardson, Leeds City Council’s director of children’s services, recently spoke at a conference to launch the council’s £4.8million ‘Family Valued’ project which aims to transform children’s social care in Leeds.

 Family Valued will implement a restorative, family-centred model which works with families to build the skills, support and resilience they need to find their own solutions to the challenges they face, and solve problems earlier before they reach a point of crisis.

 The council secured the £4.8 million from the Department for Education’s national Innovation Programme earlier this year. The Innovation Programme aims to kick-start the most promising proposals for new ways of providing children’s social care.

Here’s what Nigel had to say about Family Valued…. 

Nigel Richardson, Leeds City Council's director of children's services

Nigel Richardson, Leeds City Council’s director of children’s services

“One of the quotes we use a lot here in Leeds is ‘only connect,’ a famous quote from Howards End by E M Forster. The whole idea behind our use of ‘only connect’ in children’s services is the importance of connections and relationships to help safeguard and promote children’s welfare.

“The quality of those connections and relationships we develop – conversations that we have with other professionals, children and families – are the most important part of everybody’s work in children’s services. We’ve put a lot of time and energy into creating the conditions that allow our staff to have the right conversations in the right place and at the right time so that we make the best choices for children and young people.

“Building on that theme of ‘connections’, we also place a big emphasis on the importance of ‘family’ in Leeds.  In a fast-changing world we continue to see family as the most important utility of the 21st century.  This is not just ‘family’ in the traditional sense, but family however you choose to define it. Loosely – the collection of individuals and people who wrap themselves around the lives of children and adults. We say that children live in families, however you define families; those families create communities and it’s those communities that create cities.

“This is why children and families are a key part of our growth strategy. If Leeds is going to be the best city in the UK, then we have to put children and families at the heart of everything we do. All of our work is based around a simple question: “what is it like to be a child or young person growing up in Leeds today and how can we make it better?”

“That question is really important because it’s different for different children in different parts of the city. It’s different because Leeds is a big place, so even within different areas of the city the answer’s going to be different for each individual child.

“There’s an old social work model that we regularly refer back to: the ‘child, carer, context’ model. Every child has a context and they grow up in different contexts.  If we are going to make Leeds a better city for young people we need people who can understand and get hold of that context and then support the positive aspects of that child’s life and respond to the negatives.

“The whole idea behind our ambition for Leeds to be the best city is that we want to promote Leeds as a child friendly city.  We’re working very closely with Unicef on this and we have a clear idea of how to take the city forward.  We’ve got five outcomes, fourteen priorities and three obsessions – things that if we ‘obsess’ about together, will make a positive difference to children’s lives.

“Another consistent focus for us in children’s services is the behaviours we want to invest-in and how important those behaviours are to us.

“The first of those is restorative approaches, or restorative practices, the idea that people are much more receptive to change if we do things with them, as opposed to doing things to them, for them or doing nothing at all – that idea of ‘high support and high challenge’.

“Our approach to restorative practices is at the heart of our successful bid to the government’s innovation fund, which aims to support innovative new practice in social care. We’ve called our innovation programme ‘family valued’.  As part of ‘Family Valued’ we’re working to create a new social contract between the state and citizens. We want to change the power relationship, moving away from a position where the state and professionals have all the control and decision-making powers over vulnerable families, and instead putting more of the responsibility and decision-making with families themselves so they can come up with their own plans to make things better and safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their care.  I think it’s important that everyone with a stake in the welfare of our city’s children, and I think that’s everybody in the city, understands the significance of restorative approaches in Leeds.

“The second behaviour is about outcome based accountability (OBA) – a simple idea based on the work of Mark Friedman, looking at how we solve problems together in partnership.  OBA is effective performance management in its simplest form: How much did we do? How well did we do it and is anybody better off?

“The third behaviour is the importance of talking to, listening to, and responding to children.

“If those three behaviours resonate with you and if you’d like to find out more about working with children and young people in Leeds, or the difference you can make in your own organisation, please do get in touch and play your part in helping to make Leeds a child friendly city.

“Thank you.”

You can follow Nigel Richardson on Twitter @DCSLeeds to hear more about Leeds’s innovative approach to children’s social care and our ambition to make Leeds the best city for children and young people to grow-up in.

 What does Leeds’s successful innovation fund bid mean to you? Do you want to get involved in making Leeds the best city for young people? Why not let us know by leaving a comment below…

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