This blog is the reflections from Liz Stead, Head of Safeguarding Children for Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group, on merging boards across three areas as part of the new multiagency safeguarding arrangements.
I inherited the role of Designated Professional almost by default, when my predecessor retired. I knew what the role entailed in terms of the responsibility and accountability and I very much saw my predecessor as an ‘overseer’, so assumed that would be my focus. I don’t think I ever envisaged being in the centre of the innovation and change I so passionately believe in.
Covering three unitary authorities in the West of Berkshire, the multi-agency partnership came together in each locality, every two months, known as the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). All three boards were focussed on their own locality, however, for partners like me in health and for colleagues in the police (both statutory partners in safeguarding who cover all 3 areas and more) we were often reciting narrative and listening to the same themes in all 3 areas. Of course, there were nuances to each individual area but the bulk of the dialogue was the same. I would often muse over what we would say to the ‘imaginary’ child who, in my head, enters the room at the end of every meeting to ask:
“What have you achieved for me today?”
As is often the case when issues of money and resource arise, the conversations steered towards how we could work more efficiently and courageous colleagues mooted how one board, covering all three areas, could significantly improve efficiency and synergy. The idea of attending one board instead of three was, of course, very appealing especially to partners who attended all three. The conundrum came from the logistics of how to make it happen with enough sophistication to meet the needs of children in all three areas. The appetite to merge appeared healthy, and our partnerships in Berkshire West are strong and built upon respect and openness. I made the suggestion to form a ‘task and finish’ group to plan and oversee the transition. Our Independent Chair (who chaired all three boards) suggested I chair the meeting, which at that time, felt like an easy enough task. However, I quickly realised the influence of locality issues was something that would need careful management. Having been a key member of many sub-groups (including many I have chaired/continue to chair) I felt in a good place to be able to bring partners across all domains and all localities together. Relationships and the maturity in the system were crucial to navigating this.
Optimism is a good thing and is often the only thing that maintains focus; the basic belief that one will reach the desired goal. For us, this was a merged board with clear focus on the safety and wellbeing of our children. My role as Chair of our MASA Board was to provide that optimism, listen with care to the spoken and unspoken concerns, fears, apprehension; to draw in those who were reticent to enter the dialogue or reticent to commit, negotiating different professionals views and interests with mutual respect. It required unequivocal focus on our shared investment in improving outcomes for children. In March 2018 all partners formally agreed to this trajectory and the plan was to ‘bite the bullet’ with the July 2018 meeting. With hindsight bias, I think this needed more careful planning to agree the parameters of our new combined relationships. Nonetheless, we got everyone in a room together and ‘closed’ the concept of individual boards in our localities. We started operating as a merged board.
I think it is fair to say that many partners are daunted by the change. It will take the willingness of every single person in our partnership to commit to this, and to holding tight over the bumps in the road ahead, but when we see the benefits for our children of a cohesive system on a wider footprint, it will all have been worth it.
There remains much to do. Promoting the confidence of all the partners in these new arrangements, ensuring we can identify and effectively mitigate risk in a larger footprint, keeping the voice of our children central, is a significant focus. We are united in our commitment to ensuring that the voice of our children and families to be alive and audible; it needs to steer the work we are doing, alongside the focus on our local issues, ensuring we are not distracted from our trajectory by issues, political or otherwise. To my imaginary child entering the room at the end of our merged board, my answer is:
“…trying to get it right for you, come and tell us how you want us to do that”