Helen Wheatley, Assistant Director at the Council for Disabled Children reflects on change, choice and control.
We are currently in a time of significant reform that will continue to mean a lot of change for young people, families and every service locally. The intent of the government’s proposed reforms to the current system to support children with special educational needs and disabilities is to focus more on outcomes, listening to the voice of families, and flexible, responsive and timely support where families have greater choice and control within the system. Great! I hear you say. Yes, it is great. The challenge of course is understanding how to make any change work in practice. It sounds so easy on paper. Bring services together more, do some joint planning on budgets, talk to families and young people. Pop in some high quality, timely and responsive services. Done.
Not so fast. Humans are a messy and unpredictable lot who need significant space to collectively move from one way of working to another. And to understand and work with a range of views and needs until we get a workable consensus. That’s the really tricky bit.
I was reminded of this on Monday morning. I frequent a lovely cafe on the way to work which does excellent coffee. This week they had a sign up advertising their ‘new line’ of toast. Not just any old toast but toast made with sourdough bread. Imagine my delight! We (the regulars) had been hinting for some time that toast (any sort) would be a welcome addition to the menu.
Excitedly I placed my order beaming with anticipation. Then the question came, ‘do you want blackcurrant or raspberry?’ ‘Erm, do you have any Marmite?’ I asked. The staff looked stunned. Other customers stopped conversations. Only the sound of the oranges being squashed in the fresh juice maker could be heard.
I could see the disappointment in the face of the owner. ‘I can find some marmalade?’ he said. Similar sounding but a world away in taste. ‘No thanks, I’ll have blackcurrant,’ I replied, thinking, well come on, they have toast! Nothing is perfect – so let’s show willing.
The toast arrived – with raspberry jam – there had been a run on the blackcurrant. So, there I sat, with my one slice of toast (the additional cost of the posh bread had to be met from somewhere so only one slice of a higher quality product per order) with raspberry jam. Which I can’t stand.
Thankfully the friendly staff in the lovely cafe recovered from their shock and realised two things:
- Everyone has different needs and wants, and people ask for things all the time. You need to work with them to understand their needs and provide clear information on the how you will meet them.
- Some people do actually like marmite.
Each of these points (in different ways) can make trying to implement change and provide a good service difficult, time consuming and with a regular need for review. However we know (because there is a wealth of evidence available) that taking this approach generally results in support which meets needs, has good take up and is sustainable.
Local areas and partner agencies would be delighted I suspect if their biggest challenge was the provision of toast toppings. However, the same principles apply. If we are to make change work – in particular moving to a more individualised approach where young people and families do have choice and control – then recognising that families and young people have different needs, wants and aspirations is key.
Also key is getting leaders together locally and decide on one who will champion the change, not to mention: having families and young people as partners; bringing services together more; joint planning on budgets, creative discussions (or rows) about the best way to do this; including high quality, timely and responsive services; reviewing them; recommissioning the successful ones and learning and move on from those that didn’t work. An extensive list, and far beyond the list of toast condiments at my lovely cafe!
In our role as Strategic Reform Partner the Council for Disabled Children is collecting and providing information to government on what works well to support the reforms. We would really like to hear from you if you have information, evidence or you are working on a project you would like to share with us. Using your evidence we hope to help shape a new system that offers jam to those who want jam and marmite to marmite lovers but most importantly gives families a choice between all the options available.
We welcome your thoughts on Helen’s blog and your thoughts on the reform process (or on toast…). Please leave a comment below and Helen or someone in the CDC team will get back to you. All comments are moderated (so may take a day or two to appear) and must obey our house rules. Thanks!