Mark Raeburn: 5.5 minute read

Is a new ‘radical approach’ to children’s social care the answer? – Part One

Change is needed within social care, with new models constantly emerging in the search for this change. One of these models for children’s social care has received the attention of The Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE). They have highlighted one model as ‘A radical new approach to children’s social care’ based on the Buurtzorg model.

‘New’ and ‘Radical’ are words that excite us at OLM but can put fear into others. As an organisation we always have our ear to the ground, listening for new approaches that may be of assistance to the industry or new technology that will herald change. We don’t bury our heads in the sand and want our ideas and concepts challenged.

This radical new approach aims to liberate social workers, enabling them to spend more time with the communities they support. With budget cuts and stagnant levels of investment, we need new approaches and technology that will enable a speedy transformation, giving our front line workers more time now, not in five years’ time.

Is it truly radical?

The word radical promises big change, it jumps from the page, pulls you closer and says, ‘this is going to be amazing and shake up the status quo’. It is a word that should not be used unless the item you are selling is radically different from what has come before.

With the approach to children’s social care that has been put forth, we need to take a step back and ask if we believe that what is being presented is a radical new approach? Well, from the start, the new approach is suggesting that the following benefits will be realised*:

  • A c.60% increase in the face-to-face time social workers spend with children and families due to reductions in travel time and administrative burdens
  • A c.20% reduction in the average caseloads due to increased numbers of practising social workers in each local authority
  • Better continuity of the child and social worker relationship, enabling more timely support and improved interventions
  • More empowered social workers who can provide the right support to families when they need it
  • Improved quality assurance is driven by a c.50% increase in the time allocated to team meetings and group supervision of decision making

It is clear that with the savings projected, the word radical is well justified and so we move on to the next question and that is, how will these savings be achieved and how will the model work?

How will the model operate on a day-to-day basis?*

The image on the left-hand side is an oversight view of what has been proposed.

As you can see, the basic premise with the new model will be that children and families are at the heart of operations. Surrounding them will then be family facing teams that would be aided by one referral team. This team would be the first stage in the process. They would allocate cases to the family facing teams based on their geographic location. These central teams are then aided by an additional three teams, indicated on the diagram as teams a,b and c.

  • The Enabler Team
    Exists to help the teams run efficiently and effectively. This team handles administrative tasks, helps teams with training and recruitment, provides financial assistance, conducts performance analysis, and provides IT assistance and development

  • The Insight Team
    Exists to help teams to do their best practice with families. This team’s function is to provide an independent perspective on case issues when needed

  • The Strategy Team
    Exists to provide the necessary checks and balances on those decisions that most affect children and families’ lives. This team is also the guardians of the overall culture of the service, to ensure teams are empowered, and managers of the necessary senior engagement with other partners and agencies.

The Strategy Team then provides overall leadership on behalf of the Local Authority. It defines (preferably on the basis of dialogue with the Family Facing staff) the boundaries of authority between itself and the Family Facing Teams and exercises its own authority on its side of those boundaries.

So on a more basic level, the surrounding teams (Enabler and Insight) exist to take the administrative burden away from the ‘on the ground teams’. They ensure that these functions continue as needed but do not get in the way to allow those on the front lines the opportunity to do their jobs in a more efficient manner. This day-to-day operation is then overseen by the Strategy Team who act as the voice of the local authority.

All of this is then underpinned by a new level of trust for workers who will be required to self-manage themselves to a greater level under the new ways of working. This level of self-management is defined with the proposal document as follows:

Defining self-management
Workers in self-managing teams take responsibility for their actions and performance and are empowered to make decisions, with strong peer support and team accountability. This allows them to demonstrate their initiative, organisational skills, and to care about the results of their work and their teammates’ work.

Self-management requires a clear team structure and processes that allow everyone to do their best work. Self-management does not mean that there is no management oversight. It just means there is no ‘Manager’ function sitting above a worker in a traditional vertical hierarchy. In fact, self-management results in more management due to increased supervision and transparency from frequent peer exchanges both within the team and from other teams, who audit one another for quality assurance.

Teams are encouraged to foster a collaborative culture and a spirit of learning and development and to continuously improve their ways of working.

Will it receive support?

This is the million-pound question. It is all well and good for us to sit here and showcase the virtues of the process but the theory is a lot different to practice, just ask all the latest social work graduates. You can theorise until the cows come home and there, dreams can be as big as a city but if there is little chance to make it happen, then it is doomed to fail.

At present, the new model of care has not been tested in the field. The potential cost savings that are stated in the proposal are based on data modelling generated from a local authority and so it will need to be proven in practice before many will pay it closer attention. It has the potential to make a big impact and at this stage, we are joining the British Association of Social Workers in applauding the potential, rather than endorsing the blueprint. We support any approach which has the potential to offer more relationship-based practice and increased autonomy for social workers.

The resulting debate that has followed from the release of the proposal can only be seen as positive as it keeps the idea of change at the forefront of everyone’s mind. This we approve of but consider in the light of warnings from people such as Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England, who said;

“Trying the Buurtzorg model with children’s social work in isolation from the rest of the system is very unlikely to set social work practice free in a way that is hoped.

“If the wider council hasn’t had a culture change, and also if the wider network of services remains commissioned and managed on high targets and specialisms, then having a freed up social work team might not have the benefits that are hoped.”

Her points here echoing those that we have broadcast within our writings over the last few years, changing one item will not change the whole. For a radical shift such as the one that has been proposed, major reinvestment is required. Head of Practice at What Works for Children’s Social Care, Anna Bacchoo said on the launch of the model;

“…existing systems would not work with this model… without [improved systems] I think the model could potentially be undermined”

She went on to say that it would be like, “trying to squeeze something radical into an old system”

How we can assist - Technology

One of the main contributors to the new model, Ryan Wise, who is a Practice Development Manager at the Social Care Institute of Excellence spoke out to defend the blueprint for the model. He said that having an updated IT system would definitely help but that it wasn’t dependent on acquiring one.

With Digital 2020 here and the government’s Cloud First Policy beckoning organisations forward, the time for change is now. Systems that were fit for purpose ten years ago are not sufficient today. We created our ECLIPSE Software and Services Platform with 2020 in mind. We saw this future and wanted to capitalise on it for those we work with. That was the right decision then and it is still the right decision today.

Our ECLIPSE Software and Services Platform was built alongside hundreds of practitioners, to be compliant with all models of social work. It is also built upon open APIs that allow the award-winning platform to connect with other software systems seamlessly, much like the seamless integration that ECLIPSE provides with other models of social work. If you recognise change is needed and want to introduce new social care models, you need the right software that can be configured around who the new model works.

*Taken from


We will continue the discussion around the new approach to children's social care in two weeks time and look into more detail around the key role that technology will play. Until then, please join the discussion on Twitter (follow us @OLMSystems).