Asking for help


The Guardian has an article today explaining about how Haringey, in the fallout from the failing Child Protection services, issued an email to every other London Borough, asking for ‘one good quality person’ (namely a social worker) from each of them to help ease the backlog of assessments.

The article reports that they didn’t get  much joy – possibly because all of the other boroughs are under a similar amount of pressure. A proposal for other boroughs to freeze referrals to Haringey is being considered.

I pondered about the nature of agencies assisting and helping each other on a more informal basis. I wonder if there is much scope for professionals at a front line level rather than at directorate level, to move between employing authorities to ‘share good practice’.

image D3 San Francisco at Flickr

Coming in from the outside can be a good way of identifying poor practice and if an outsider were able to produce a report, it might make internal staff more likely to speak informally rather than producing a top level down report where there is more fear of ‘whistleblowing’ and the implications.

The only situation I can think of where I have been involved in a ‘pan London’ approach was when I was involved in the aftermath of the 7th July bombings in London where a response was coordinated with different boroughs providing members of staff to ‘man’ the Family Assistance Centre in Central London. Some of the discussions we had about the different ways of working and planning were priceless to me and I took some ideas back to my workplace.

I know every agency is pushed for staff but a wider issue is that in London in particular, a lot of boroughs need to work more closely together. The borough I work in has numerous boundaries with other boroughs. The ways that our borough interacts with those other boroughs differs massively. With some there are reciprocal arrangements with others, nothing at all. At least one of these ‘links’ was set up purely because one of the more senior members of staff used to work in one of the neighbouring boroughs and promoted these links through contacts he had there.

Passing over staff for a month in a period of crisis isn’t, perhaps, the answer, but more movement between authorities through secondment,  may be a way of promoting good practice or at least identifying poor practice by someone coming in from the ‘outside’ for short periods of secondment.

The main barrier is the issue of pay but there is a lot of excellent work that is taking place within local authorities and sharing staff on short term bases for a short term period of work would also increase the experience of the workers identified.

Sometimes it doesn’t take a ‘top level down’ approach to see what can be changed, but rather an horizontal level.

Of course, I don’t expect this to happen. Everyone is over-stretched at the moment. The real challenge is how to open up jobs and not just child protection jobs, to newly qualified workers who do not yet have the experience required to take up the work that is there. How to be able to share skills and experience across different teams and different boroughs.

Perhaps on a less ambitious level, just more joint training and team discussions would be beneficial. Sometimes seeing the same situation with a different perspective can provide answers and solutions which had not previously been considered.

This comes in the wave of a new poll from Unison which, according to the Telegraph,  claims that

It claims at least 20 per cent of social worker posts are unfilled in more than half of teams, with vacancy rates of more than 30 per cent in some areas

I doubt that this will come as a surprise to anyone who has any knowledge of the sector.

Unison, unsurprisingly, is calling for more funding and wider recruitment to teams where there are shortages. While this is the only long term solution, in the short term, local government has lost millions of pounds in Icelandic investments and are looking to cut just about everything that moves. It is absolutely required to invest in services  but it isn’t much of a vote winner.

Perhaps more cross-borough propagation of skills is something that could be considered in a non-crisis setting.

One thought on “Asking for help

  1. “local government has lost millions of pounds in Icelandic”

    I heard about Iceland crashing several weeks ago. Wow. If there are budget concerns, it’s likely you won’t have new hires. I know the state here sometimes puts workers on furlough to help with budget crises, let alone hiring new workers.

    I think you’re right that an informal game plan–making use of the all important human capital–is likely the best way to go. Working from the inside out instead of the top down likely means less bureaucratic wrangling. At least one would hope.

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