New ways of working at Cheshire West and Chester

28 November 2019

West Cheshire Children's TrustAnna Johnson

West Cheshire Children’s Trust has a pioneering vision for working with children and families across the multi-agency partnership, driving forward a ‘One Children’s Service’ approach. At the heart of this vision is a strong preventative focus at all levels to prevent children and young people becoming more vulnerable and their needs escalating.

We recognise that if we work together in a common and collaborative way, it will enable us to have a shared language and understanding of need and risk. We want to work with children and families in a way that ensures sustainable solutions, improves emotional health and wellbeing, and develops resilience.

Funding from the Department for Education in July 2018 through the Partners in Practice programme has enabled us to develop a transformational approach to strengthening culture and practice across the whole children’s workforce.

Why change practice?

Here in West Cheshire Children’s Trust it is an exciting and innovative time. We have begun to shape and define our practice as a partnership, based on researching and developing a way of working that is meaningful for us.

Two key areas helped inform our research. Our multi-agency audits told us when working with children and families that we were focusing on the presenting situation, rather than looking back and considering the underlying and parental factors that contribute to children’s outcomes. This led our research to consider trauma-informed practice. Secondly the joint targeted area inspection in 2017 helped us build upon a firm foundation of partnership working. It identified that our partnership working was strong with ‘collaborative and well-coordinated work at a strategic level – and highlighted that the ‘impact is evident in effective partnership working’.

Through this we have been able to build new ways of working from a position of strength to support continuous improvement and develop a model of practice that meets local need. 

What is our ‘new ways of working’?

Our governance structure provided a framework to research and develop a model of practice. The foundations of this were built on the multi-agency expertise of the partnership. In doing this we drew upon research, including the Research in Practice Webinar by Danny Target on trauma-informed responses in relationship based practice and related workshop in October 2018.

The model draws on the following evidence-based approaches: trauma-informed practice and motivational interviewing; and the two frameworks of multi-agency group supervision and learning conversations, which were researched and developed by the partnership and are underpinned by a ‘Think Family’ approach (see diagram below).

The model at Cheshire West and Chester









This way of working is enabling us to start to recognise and respond to root causes of behaviour to support us in making meaningful and sustained changes for local children and families. The two frameworks of learning conversations and multi-agency group supervision are enabling us as a partnership to review and reflect on practice together; and jointly agree our approach to managing need, risk and vulnerability.

What do our children and families say?

Children and families have been central to shaping and developing our model, sharing their views and thoughts around what this new way of working will mean for them. They have told us that they want to tell their story once, ensure they are the focus. They want us to respond in a trauma sensitive and motivational way and be innovative in meeting their needs. They have supported us in developing our emerging shared language, moving away from professional jargon to reflecting and understanding the meaning of the behaviours we see. This enables us to work in a trauma sensitive and motivational way to make a difference and improve outcomes.

Progress so far

Training and development

We have an innovative and ambitious training and development programme for 900 multi-agency frontline staff. The training and development programme has supported leaders across the partnership to pioneer our culture change. All training and development is multi-agency, which has supported us in developing our shared language and understanding of need and risk. The programme runs from March 2019 to March 2020. Ambassadors are coming forward to support embedding the new ways of working in their own organisations and regular learning events are planned to share best practice.

Partners and organisations are considering what this way of working means for them developing practice, systems and process that are trauma-informed, shaping policy and practice to align our whole workforce to prevent escalation of need and risk.

Our way of working is being shared wider across the workforce, for example, business support, foster carers, leisure centre staff and school governors. We are supporting our learning wider through a new website coming in autumn 2019.

Practice systems

One of our first system changes to reflect new ways of working is the Child Protection Conference Model, which is drawing on our shared language and trauma-informed approaches to reflect the culture change.

Further examples include a Transition through a Trauma Lens Pilot, trauma-informed approaches in secondary schools as well as informing our approach to supporting foster carers and connected carers.

Shared language

Eight months in we are starting to see a shift in our thinking to be trauma-informed, our shared language is developing, underpinning our emerging culture and practice. Partnership discussions are starting to consider ‘what has happened to you’ (Family and Youth Services Bureau, 2014) for children and families as opposed to focusing on the presenting behaviours.

We have drawn on our trauma lens to start to refocus reports, case notes, assessments and reviews to be underpinned by trauma-informed practice, as well as positively challenging colleges on the language we are using and most importantly informing how we work with children and families.

New frameworks

We have introduced multi-agency chronologies as part of our multi-agency group supervision framework. This framework, alongside learning conversations, went live in September 2019. These are an integral part of our new culture as it is the first time within the partnership we have frameworks that focus on prevention across the continuum of need. This enables joint assessment, decision making learning and reflection to meet need and agree a joint plan to manage risk.

Moving forward

Sustainability of the programme will be key to embedding the culture change. We are committed to ‘Train the Trainer’ to continue training our collective workforce and embed the model of practice with the commitment and support of the Children’s Trust.

Changing our language to become trauma-informed sounds simple but culturally is hard to do as what we say and the words we use have been embedded as our practice norm. We recognise the significance of language and impact of meaning it can have through what it can imply, evoke and the stigma it can cause. We see language as an integral means in which we can drive forward our new culture and make a difference for our children and families.

We are developing a performance management and multi-agency quality assurance framework to support us in understanding of the impact of the model in order for us to continue to improve outcomes for children and families.

We will continue to consult with children and families to hear from them the difference it is making and the outcomes they want to see being put into practice.

To find out more contact: PiP.Admin@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk.

About the author

Anna Johnson is the Innovation and Practice Development Lead for ‘New Ways of  Working’ and has been researching and developing the model of practice with partners since October 2017, leading to the implementation of the programme in March of this year.

Prior to this Anna has practised as a social worker since 2000, in a number of different roles including working within a children and families team, family support services and the emergency duty team. In addition, Anna has worked in New Zealand for a year with child, youth and family, practising in both inner-city Auckland and island communities. Up until Anna’s current post she was the Workforce Development Lead for Children’s Social Care in Cheshire West and Chester.

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