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March 30, 2010

There’s nothing like a shocking death in the community to focus attention on the supposed inadequacies of our public services

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 10:45 am

There’s nothing like a shocking death in the community to focus attention on the supposed inadequacies of our public services.

And Birmingham Children’s Services have been under intense national scrutiny following the death by starvation of 7-year-old Khyra Ishaq. Rightly, questions were asked: How could such a terrible tragedy happen in a modern British city? Where were the safeguards to protect the child?

Last Friday I spent an hour or so with Owen Pearson, assistant director of Children’s Services in Birmingham. Owen is a dedicated champion of children’s safeguarding, he’s on call most of the time, often working round the clock. He has no time for holidays, but is urged to take them far away from Birmingham and England so he’s out of contact, “which makes my holidays rather expensive,” he jokes. Above all, he loves his work: “I believe I can make a difference for children. If I’m making a difference for one, then I’m making a difference.”

Some 2,000 looked after children are currently in the care system in Birmingham, and 4 times as many children are on the child protection register living at home.

“Our priority is to safeguard children in their own homes,” Owen says. “Most children don’t’ want to leave their parents. That’s home, that’s love for them. It’s only when they get older they realise they can get out.”

He manages 19 teams; each team has 6 social workers, 2 assistants and a manager. And each social worker has 15 cases or more at any one time. As Americans say, “do the math”. It’s a huge workload.

The teams’ records of helping vulnerable children go largely unrecorded, mainly because of the successful outcomes. Now and again tragedies happen and the teams collectively are vilified across the nation. Such is the lot of Children’s Services throughout the UK.

The reason for my visit was to plan a mini-conference where Owen and Colin Tucker, the Children’s Services Director, will talk to other heads of services to explain the type of work they do and how they’re going to develop this in the wake of little Khyra’s death.

The idea for the conference is to record the “journey” through video engagement of a vulnerable child who is referred to social services. So as Owen and Colin speak, behind them will be a portal containing half a dozen video blogs of everyone connected with the “journey”; that’s the 10-year-old child, social worker, case recorder, legal representatives and child/adult who has been through the care system.

The idea is to give an accurate picture – not a whitewash. Owen was clear about that. He wants to tell the truth and he wants each person in the chain of events to show clearly how the “journey starts and finishes”.

No system is perfect, but if we can show through directors’ speeches and video narratives how everyone is trying to improve the lives of children, then maybe next time tragedies occur, there’ll be less finger pointing and witch hunts and more empathy, understanding and analysis. That way real improvements will be made.

As part of this engagement process, it’s important to keep the portal growing post-event. That way everyone connected with the service can start to talk, engage and share best practice and anecdotal evidence. Using facebook-style profiling, microblogging and video blogs, a community can be formed and managed, and hopefully can act to help avoid tragedies in the future.


March 17, 2010

The best way to get people talking is to entertain them

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 6:01 pm

The best way to get people talking is to entertain them.

I saw this at first hand yesterday in Liverpool at a huge exhibition and conference focused on transforming personal care. The event was attended by local authority transformation leads, carers, and people with disabilities and mental health problems, so a good mix of attendees

There were the usual suspects advertising their wares, handing out mints, chocolates, squeezy stress heads and – my favourite – balls that light up when you bounce them (couldn’t resist filching several of these).

And some of the workshops, while well meaning, bordered on the very tedious.

Nevertheless, the good bits were VERY good. There were dance troupes, a bell ringing Town Crier decked out in Georgian garb, an Elvis impersonator and a comedy troupe called Abnormally Funny People. This bunch have just finished a season at the Soho Theatre and boasted only one “normal” person (ie a person without a disability). The humour was not all about disabilities; it was simply put on by people with disabilities. That was the point. Fairly risqué stuff, but the audience loved it.

In many of the workshops people were invited to take part. From citizen leadership in the community to helping mental health service users understand personalised care, this was how conferences should work. The audience were tasked to help solve various conundrums among themselves. – and have some fun doing it.

Jenny Pitts from Shropshire CC headed a brilliant exercise in audience participation in her workshop on cultural change in the community. Here a couple actors from gave a role playing exercise, one of them a cynical team leader who believed change wasn’t possible, the other a young eager assistant director eager for change. Throughout the workshop the audience was invited to stop the action and get the actors to use a different approach to solving their communication problems. It was funny, engaging and thought provoking. Everyone loved it.

The only workshop missing was a truly interactive one where people used Web 2.0 tools, cameras and social media to show how communities can grow through networks and active participation. That’s where I come in. Next time.

Below is an interview with Andy Taylor and Dave Rowen of people deliver projects and Jenny Pitts, Shropshire CC. Also Elvis singing In The Ghetto, followed by a chat with the king.

March 11, 2010

Conferencing + interactive content + plus managing the network.

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 3:20 pm

“What I really like is Facebook. Can you do Facebook for me?”

No, it wasn’t my 10 year old asking me to set up his own Facebook page (which he wants – tho I haven’t). It was the director of a local council asking me if we’d be able to extend Facebook profiling for all staff and community stakeholders.

“Of course,” I replied. “We can even throw in sealed microblogging (twitter-style) capability for your senior management team and different departments.”

Now there’s an interesting challenge…

On every level central and local government are working on ways to extend their reach into the community, the problem is how to do it when budgets/resources are scarce and local politics get in the way.

What I propose is a virtuous circle of engagement. Take the old ideas of knowledge management – so beloved by local authorities – and turn them inside out. Bring video/audio and blogging capability to all staff within local government. Add to this, set everyone up with Facebook-style profiling and secure microblogging networks.

Immediately, people can start forming groups within organisations, best practice can be shared, problems can be solved. Twitter-style blogs can keep members of teams up to speed with what’s happening inside and outside of the office. This will become an essential tool for senior managers/directors and also frontline social workers. The career minded will embrace the new ways of working while acting as evangelists to the less enthused members of staff.

Following this, you extend this level of engagement into the community, bringing in health, police, community groups, charities. So the complex of different individuals and groups, private sector and public, will start to interact with each other.

Furthermore, as the groups start to generate content, talking to each other and posting human interest stories on video and in blogs, the engagement process will gather its own momentum – altho still managed by all partners in the community.

It’s ambitious, far-reaching stuff. An absurd utopia, some might think.

Maybe. But not so absurd. If all stakeholders decide to engage it can work through proper management and proactive profiling.

If cabinet ministers down to directors of local authorities are serious about stakeholder engagement, they should take the lead and start the making it happen.

I recently proclaimed in a meeting with the senior management team of a London Borough Council that I would revolutionise community engagement. At the time I was embarrassed by my own hyperbole. But afterwards I realised what I said was true.

We need to create awareness, then show people the possibilities; not abstract but concrete possibilities. Conferencing + interactive content + plus managing the network.

March 10, 2010

How Roger was bundled into a straitjacket for 12 hours and why he’s never told anyone

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 12:22 pm
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I’ve got a friend who’s an ex-con – let’s call him Roger.

Every few weeks I meet Roger in a little pub in a forgotten corner of Worcestershire and sink a few Hereford Pale Ales while putting the world to rights.

Roger is incredibly erudite and eloquent, outwardly middle class and a happily discontented family man. After a few jars, however, he often sinks into a maudlin stew and talks me about his life inside a maximum security prison.

He recounts these “missing years” – even his wife is unaware of his secret history – in a matter-of-fact way. But even after 2 decades, bitterness for the way the prison service operates still burns inside.

Last week he told me of his first day of incarceration on what he terms a trumped up drugs charge:

“Coming out of court and packed into a van, I was too numb to understand what was happening. As we sped away, tears started streaming down my face. Then they came in floods. I was lost, alone, desperate for some kind of shoulder to cry on, some level of deep humanity I could touch.

“I was bundled out of the van, taken to a place where I was ordered to strip. By this time I was sobbing uncontrollably. One of the prison officers shouted to his mate: “We’ve got a crier!”

“They all laughed, dragged me into a cell and squeezed me into a straitjacket. I was unable to move for the next 12 hours and had to piss myself inside the suit. I was let out next morning; I wanted to kill myself.”

What struck Roger the most was the malevolence of the system. Any weakness shown was met by force and brutality. His gaolers would punish crying, but respect violence towards other “cons” in a world turned upside down.

Only the beer brings out Roger’s deep-seated scars. He talks to no one else about this – it will always remain bottled up inside.

Below is a recent interview I had with Christian Wraxall about how social media engagement can try to bring people with mental health problems together to talk about their shared concerns and histories.

When I asked Roger would he ever want to be involved in such a network he said: “Before, when I’d just come out it would have helped enormously. But that was then, not now.”

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