Improving family engagement and empowerment in Child Protection Conferences (Part 2)

In our last post we told you about a recent design project we ran, co-designing solutions improve family engagement and empowerment in child protection conferences. In Part 2 we will tell out about the solutions we designed and what we learned from the project.

Our Solutions

During our 5 month pilot we tested a range of solutions aimed at improving families’ experience throughout the Child Protection Conference process. Interventions included different communication formats such as videos and written materials, new report structures, and email prompts to social workers and managers to be sent at specific points of the journey. Over the course of the pilot, professionals fed back on which tools helped parents to contribute to the plan and engage in the conference process. Of course, not everything worked well, but the “test & learn” approach helped us refine solutions and stop doing things that weren’t working.

At the end of the pilot, we had 3 refined solutions that were having a clear impact on family engagement:

Solution 1: Information videos for both parents and children that provide key information about the process, explained in a simple language alongside engaging visuals [you can have a look at the prototypes we used during the testing phase for parents and younger children]. During the pilot we found out that many families find it easier to engage with videos rather than written documentation. Videos also gave families something to refer to and watch again whenever they liked. Barking & Dagenham being a diverse borough, we also provided subtitles in 4 of the most spoken languages.

“The videos are a great tool for parents. A parent watched it again and again and set clear expectations about the conference. Videos are also a great support for me, it helps me having difficult conversations with families.” Social worker

Snapshot from one of our informational video prototypes

Solution 2: Shorter reports — discussions with the design group highlighted that the length of the reports often discouraged families from reading them. Reports tended to be very long, spanning years, if not decades, of case notes. As a result, families often didn’t engage with the reports and missed very important information. Together with social workers and conference chairs we reviewed the content of the current report, identified sections that might not be relevant and tested a more concise version This included a 1-page summary report to provide parents with a short overview of family’s strengths, professionals’ worries and how these affect the child. We really wanted to avoid increasing social workers’ workload, therefore we used an existing section from the case management system which detailed these main aspects and exported it as a standalone 1-page report.

“One family used the summary report very well. She sent back what she did not agree as well as her thoughts and reflections.” Social worker

Solution 3: My Views form — The My Views form is a template that prompts parents to set out their concerns and share thoughts and wishes for their family in advance of the meeting. Conferences can be stressful and may not be the best moment for families to get their thoughts on the table. The My Views form allows parents to think about some of this in advance, give their opinion about what is written in the report and what support they think will help their child and family. They can choose to fill it in on their own, with their social worker or with a trusted friend so that everyone at the conference can really engage with their worries, hopes and suggestions for what the plan might contain.

“The My Views form has been very useful for one mum I am supporting. She gets anxious about public speaking, but having it filled out with me beforehand helped her to be calmer and active during the conference.” Social worker

Extract from our ‘My Views’ form prototype

We were delighted that Children’s Services decided to implement the new approach across their entire service. It was also exciting to notice wider impact that this project had. People in the service really enjoyed and recognised the value of co-design processes and this is triggering wider conversations on how to build on this piece of work to establish a permanent space for families to provide feedback and shape support.

What We Learned

Implementing a new practice across an entire front-line function is not easy and does not happen in one day. An accessible guide on the intranet can definitely help professionals but something more is needed to generate large-scale change and transformation. We tried out different strategies, and joined forces with colleagues in Children’s Services to make sure that all social workers were aware of the new approach and incorporate it into their current practice. This is what we learned:

Collaborate with people with lived experience — it may seem obvious, but we would not have achieved these results without the participation of parents who previously experienced CPCs. This was not always easy but people who had personally experienced the care system added unique insights which actively influenced the whole design process. We worked with them and social care professionals as one design team. Everyone brought different but equal values, with a shared goal: to design practical resources that can help families in similar circumstances.

Make it easy for professionals — it is common for social workers to have a very busy schedule full of different activities, tasks and procedures to follow. Moreover, they are often working in a state of constant change (process, IT, approach etc.) that it is hard to keep up with. Therefore, it was crucial to develop tools that do not just empower families but also help workers in their daily tasks. To increase adoption, we also dedicated lots of our time making those changes as easy as possible for them.

Identify people in the service that can champion the new approach — while scaling up the solutions, we quickly realised that attending social workers’ team meetings to show them how to use the new tools was simply not enough. After all, why would a social worker take advice from a service designer or a behavioural scientist? Having representatives from the design group come to share their experiences with the wider service really helped generate interest and enthusiasm among the social workers not involved in the co-design process. They acted as champions and also provided practical advice to their peers when needed (such as tips on how to export the new reports quickly; examples on how the My Views form can be used flexibly based on specific family situations). Crucially, they could talk about the tools in ‘the language of social work’ and put them into the context of existing practice.

Leverage inspirational leadership — team managers’ commitment was crucial to get things done and encourage their teams to use the new approach. We worked with them and the Quality Assurance team to keep project momentum and remind social workers when and how to use the new approach.

Co-design is great… but it takes time and effort! Childrens’ services really liked the approach and its results but also recognised that it was resource-intensive for a statutory service dealing with high-volumes of demand and shrinking budgets. How can we be better at facilitating co-design with busy staff? How can we enable a frontline service to regularly incorporate these practices in a sustainable way? We are trying different things but still racking our brains around these questions at the moment, so if you have any tips or experiences to share, please let us know

This was the first time we worked closely at the more ‘acute’ end of Children’s Services. It was interesting to apply principles of service design and behavioural science to a statutory process; trying to meet the needs of the family, the child and professionals. But it felt like a fertile area for further projects like this. We have started on some of these and will tell you about them in future blogs!

Words by Emilia D’Orazio, Senior Service Designer at Barking and Dagenham’s Insight and Innovation Support Team. Project team: Emilia D’Orazio, Tim Pearse, Saumya Singhal

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LBBD Insight and Innovation Support Team

We are the Insight and Innovation Support Team at the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham. We work with residents and colleagues to drive positive change.