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Essay: The First Response Team

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  • Published: 13 September 2015*
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This piece of work will discuss and evaluate strategies on change plan for the First Response Team. It will describe the statutory work in the First Response Team and the theories that underpin the work practice in this area of children’s services. In addition, using the theories of change management and reflection, this essay will describe an area of practice that I consider could be changed. It will further identify barriers to change which might need to be overcome.

The First Response Team is the ‘front door’ to the Buckinghamshire County Council Children Services, whose primary function is to take telephone, e-mail, fax, postal and in person referrals and inquiries from members of the public, partner agencies and organisations. It is one team split over two sites, in Aylesbury (North) and another in High Wycombe (South) – it involves a Team Manager, Assistant Team Managers, Business Support Administrators, Domestic Violence Specialist and Social Workers.

The team is a new development within the service and it is part of the response to a review of processes, focussing on the child’s journey and developments across the country following the Munroe Review. The team is a single point of contact for all referrals to social care and for advice on safeguarding concerns for children and young people. There is one telephone number and one secure email address for professionals and the general public to contact social care.

A referral is an enquiry to Social Care in relation to a named child, who is believed to be a ‘child in need’ or at risk of suffering ‘significant harm’. New referrals to social care, including children with disabilities, are processed by this team; they are responsible for screening and assessing all possible referrals, as to whether the case meets the threshold as defined by Section 17 and Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. In addition the team assess the seriousness and urgency of the concerns, ensuring the referral reaches the appropriate team within defined timescales.

However, those not meeting the threshold for assessment of children’s social care are signposted by the team to the early help provision, universal services or other specialist services. This model is the first step in working towards a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) which, it is proposed will be operated on a multi-agency basis and will include multi-agency information sharing and recording arrangements.

In response to domestic violence, the First Response Team work in partnership with the police on a daily basis, reviewing domestic violence reports where a child is part of the household or involved in the incident. However, where information in the report indicates a child may be in need or at risk of harm, the First Response Team will follow the referral procedure and record as a referral on ICS.

Information about the referral, enquiries and recommended outcomes are recorded in the ICS referral record. A manager will then complete the referral authorisation stage on ICS, recording the decision made with reasons. The duty manager is responsible with reviewing actions needed, allocating the case to a Social Worker and arrange for the child to be seen immediately if it is a section 47.

This essay will discuss the legislation, policies, procedures and theories that underpins the practice in the First Response Team.

Under the section 17 of the Children Act 1989 local authorities have a general duty to provide a range and level of services appropriate to the children in their area who are ‘in need’ so as to safeguard and promote their welfare, and, so as far is consistent with that aim, promote their upbringing by their families (DoH, 1989). In addition, section 17 of the Children Act 1989 states that a child or young person is in need if he/she is; ‘unlikely’ to achieve or maintain, or have the opportunity of achieving and maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for him/her of service by the local authority (Holmes and McDermid, 2012). The legal definition of harm under the Children Act 1989 is ill treatment (including sexual abuse and non-physical forms of ill-treatment), or the impairment of health (physical or mental) or development (physical, intellectual,emotional, social or behavioural) (Brammer, 2007).

The call for professional to work together more effectively on the front line emerged strongly in the government Green paper Every Child Matters (2003), which was published alongside the government’s formal response to Lord Laming inquiry into the tragic death of Victoria Climbie (Garret and Lodge, 2009). Cheminais (2010) states that Every Child Matters is a government initiative designed to address the well being and needs of the whole child in relation to ensuring that all children and young people are healthy, safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well being.

The Children Act 2004 provides the statutory basis for the establishment of the Children’s Trust by setting out a duty for all ‘relevant partners’ to cooperate in planning and providing services to children and young people in a local authority (Garret and Lodge, 2009). These partners are district councils, police, probation board, youth offending teams, education, health, learning and skills Council (ibid). The Working Together to Safeguard Children (2013) aims to help professionals understand what they need to do, and what they can expect of another, to safeguard children. It further seeks to emphasize that effective safeguarding systems are those where the child needs are ‘paramount’ – all professionals share information in a timely way and also all professionals contribute to whatever actions are needed to safeguard and promote a child’s welfare (HM Gov, 2013).
The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DoH, 2000), developed an integral part of the ‘Quality Protects’ programme, providing a systematic way of understanding, analysing and recording what is happening to children and young people within their families and wider context of the community in which they live (Horwath, 2001). In addition, the framework provides a conceptual map for undertaking assessments of children in need and their families which should ensure that practitioners, managers and policymakers maintain a child focus, irrespective of how the world of the child changes and develops over time (ibid).

The ‘systems’ approach emphasizes Social Workers to look beyond the child’s presenting problems, assessing the complexities and inter-relationship of the child’s life situation (Zastrow, 2010). In addition, it enables Social Workers to think about how the dynamics are constantly altering as each member deals with life both inside and outside the family (Walker, 2012). The team ‘ecological’ approach involves considering not only the developmental needs of the child, but also of the parent or carer’s ability to respond to these needs, the parenting issues that may have an impact on parenting capacity and the family, and environmental factors that influence both the child and family (Cleaver et al. 2009). An ecological model tries to improve coping patterns so that better match can be attained between the child’s needs and the characteristics of his or her environment (Walker, 2012).

The team practice a ‘child centred’ approach whereby assessments recognise children and young people as individuals with rights, including their right to participate in decisions about them in line with their age and maturity (Munro, 2011). Furthermore, Munro Review points out that although the focus of work is often on helping parents with their problems, it is important to keep assessing whether this is leading to sufficient improvement in the capacity of the parents to respond to each of their children’s needs (ibid).

This essay will continue to discuss about the types, causes, benefits and barriers of change management – I will also describe an area of practice in the team that I think could be changed.

The Oxford English Dictionary (2013) defines change as making or becoming different; substitution of one for another, variety. According to Singh (2005) change is a coping process of moving from the present state to a desired state that individuals, groups and organisations undertake in response to dynamic internal and external factors that alter current realities. Change can serve as a means to address many important challenges such as those related to policy, governance, rule of law, philosophy, and distribution of information, rights, and resources, challenges of efficiency, effectiveness, quality, and competitiveness, and challenges hinged of shared values, understanding, and cooperation (Lewis, 2011). These challenges span across many sectors of society, including private sector organisations upon which we depend for goods, services, and the basis of our economy; public sector organisations that run our communities, state, national and international governance; and non-governmental or non-profit organisations that promote community and leisure activity as well as provide for numerous humanitarian, scientific, professional, cultural, and social services (ibid). The three types of change are transitional change, developmental change and transformational change (Anderson and Anderson, 2010).

According to Anderson and Anderson (2010) developmental change is the improvement of existing organisational ways of operating, such as improving skills, increasing communication and making a business process more efficient. Developmental change does not ask people to alter their existing way of operating, but it triggers fewier human dynamics that transformation and does not affect the aorganisation’s culture (ibid).
Transitional change occurs when a problem is recognised in the current reality that need to be solved with a new way of operating (Anderson and Anderson, 2012). However, because transitional change entails the implementation of something different from what currently exists, it requires leaders to dismantle the current way of operating and systematically put in place a newly designed desired state (ibid). Transitional change usually has a start date and end date, as well as concrete outcome designed according to a set of preconceived design requirements (Anderson and Anderson, 2010). Traditional methods for project management are usually quite effective when managing transitional change, especially when the people impacted by the change are fully aware of what is going on, and are committed to making it happen (ibid). The most significant problems occur when managers view their organisation’s transitional change as purely technical or structural, and do not provide adequate change management support, especially when employees are stressed with heavy workloads (Anderson and Anderson, 2010).

Transformation change occurs when the organisation recognises that the old way operating, even if it where to be improved, cannot deliver the business strategies required to meet new marketplace requirements for success (ibid). These changes are so significant that they require the organisation, in addition to change its operation significantly, to shift its culture and employes’s behaviour and mindsets to implement the transformation successfully and sustain it over time (Anderson and Anderson, 2010). However, because employees are required to trust and step into the unknown, transformation triggers fear and anxiety, which might be managed throughout the process to keep moving people’s natural resistance toward greater commitment (ibid).

According to Cohen et al. (1995) cited in Ramanathan, (2008) organisational change involves moving from the known to the unknown, from relative certainty to relative uncertainty, from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Agarwal (2008) identifies three basic causes of organisational change which are; change as a result of growth or decay;major reorganisation; the impact of technological change on organisational structure; and impact of their external environment forces. Organisations are subject to the cyclical process of growth, stability and decline ‘ when they start approaching the declining stage, dynamic organisations make vital changes in their objectives, structures and processes (ibid).

Technology is the most dynamic and significant factor forcing changes in organisational designs, goals, strategies and policies. Computerisation has changed communication systems, decision making processes and information flow, affecting the location of the decision centres (Agarwal, 2008). Environmental forces, including socio-cultural factors such as beliefs, values, norms, aspirations, fears of people; and demographic forces, including population growth rate and age structure ‘ they create new opportunities for organisations and destroy the existing ones (ibid).

There are many obstacles to change such as structural inertia, where the culture of the organisation resist change, or the existing power structure, within which current managers or leaders may feel threatened by the prospect of change (Wilde et. al 2004). In addition, resistance from work groups is one of the greatest barriers to change, as individuals (including leaders) feel threatened by proposed changes (ibid). The reasons for resisting change may include: for individuals; habit, inconvenience, fear of loss of security; for the organisation; culture, investing in resources, existing contracts; other reasons: self interest, misunderstandings or lack of communication and lack of trust (ibid). The process of change can be introduced smoothly and with minimum disruption, or it can leave employees and the organisation confused, alarmed, and lacking efficiency (Wilde et al. 2004).

During my learning experience on this placement, I have noticed that an organisational change is required in regards to effective inter-agency working. Reflecting on my practice during my time with this team, I found it difficult to read police reports as they used acronyms which are not used in Social Services.

In addition, some of the referrals from police had insufficient information such as phone numbers, home addresses and wrong gender and names of people involved. The process of calling the police or the schools, requesting for additional information was time wasting. On one occasion, I made an unannounced home visit and I found out that the name on the referral was wrong, but it was the correct family. The team receives a high volume of referrals from the police, and I think accurate recording of information is very important, as we have a duty to safeguard the welfare of the children and young people referred to Social Services.

Furthermore, when I was carrying out welfare checks in regards to a referral decision made by the managers, some GP’s refused to provide information. They wanted to see a written consent from the families in order for them to release medical information. My task on some of these referral did not need a home visit and the families provided a verbal consent over the phone. However, some of the GP’s were very engaging as they cooperated – they understood very well my duty as a Social Worker. Some of the referrals had to be closed without information from the GP’s and I think it is a risky practice, considering the serious case reviews such as Baby P and Victoria Climbie. Information sharing between agencies has been a major concern for years, and I am glad that this team is moving towards implementing the MASH model of working together.

MASH model offers a more consistent, timely and unified multi ‘ agency response to individual situations, rather that children’s social care services making unilateral decisions in response to referrals. King et. al (2012) states that Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs are designed to improve safeguarding for the children by co-locating key partners and their data, into secure assessment, research and referral unit to receive notifications of possible risk. Furthermore, the model’s improves information sharing between agencies, meaning decisions can be quicker and better in that there are based on a complete understanding of an individual case ( ibid).

However, the team is in a process of organisational change (MASH) which will constitute professionals from the police, education, health and social care. Lewin (1951) suggested a planned model of change involving three stages; unfreezing the organisation, change it and refreeze it in a new arrangement (Ramanathan, 2008).

Unfreezing requires assessment of the current state and preparing individuals and organisation for change ‘ refreezing anchors new ways and behaviours into the daily routine and culture of the organisation (ibid).

Lack of understanding of change implementation techniques and the inability to modify one’s management style or organisational functions are cited as barriers of success (Bossidy and Charan, 2002; Gilley, 2005). Gilley and Boughton (1996) states that coaching has been defined as the process of improving performance by developing a synergistic relationship with employees through training, confronting and mentoring.

Leaders responsible for communicating to the organisation, the risks in clinging to the current situation and the potential rewards of embracing a radically different future (Denning, 2005). In addition, leaders as change agents must provide employees with abundant, relevant information with regard to impending changes, justify the appropriateness and rationale for change, address employees’ questions and concerns, and explore ways in which change might affect them in order to increase acceptance and participation (Green, 2004; Rousseau and Tijoriwala, 1999). Employees question, evaluate and weigh arguments for and against change to determine its strengths and weaknesses; thus, well developed rationalisation are more likely to be accepted, while weaker arguments are rejected (Knowles and Linn, 2004). Peterson and Hicks (1996) suggest that appropriate communications provide employees with feedback and reinforcements during change.

Another change management strategy that is important for determining employee adjustment during times of organisational change is employee participation (Cooper et. al, 2005). Employee participation helps to create a sense of personal control among employees, giving them the opportunity to adopt direct behavioural efforts to control significant work related events, thereby achieving desired goals (ibid). A growing body of research suggest that employee involvement has a positive impact on change implementation (Simms, 2002) . Birdi’s (2005) research indicates that involving employees and soliciting their feedback significantly influence the extent to which action is taken on creative ideas.

According to Kroth, (2007) motivation is the drive that causes us to behave in a specific way and has been described as consisting of energy, direction and sustainability. Motivating others requires skilled managers who can organise and provide a motivating environment; communicating effectively, address employees’ questions, generate creative ideas, prioritise ideas, direct personal practices, plan employees’ actions, commit emplyees to action, and provide follow up to overcome motivational problems (Carlisle and Murphy, 1996).

Furthermore, leaders secure desired results through a compensation and reward philosophy that recognise employees for the right performance (Leboeuf, 1985). According to Lussier (2006) recipients of change react positively to rewards for incremental change, celebrations of milestones, and leaders who creates a win-win situation related to change. Reward programs that help organisation achieve specific change goals such a greater creativity, innovative products, competitiveness, collaboration and team work, employee commitment and loyalty, long term plans, and continual learning and application of new skills are positively related to organisational goal achievements (Ulrich, Zenger and Smallwood, 1999).

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