Sun, beaches and relationship-based practice – those are the things that come to mind when you think about Brighton & Hove in the beginning of July. And if relationship-based practice is not one of the things that came to your mind, it definitely will after this blog.

In 2014 Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) Children’s Services, found themselves in a difficult position: complaints were high, inspection scores were low and morale was even lower. It was clear that things needed to change. With the right leadership of Helen Gulvin, BHCC embarked on a year-long journey where they consulted with the families and children that they served, the workforce, experts, and other councils.

The result of that consultation was their new model of relationship-based practice. It was a remarkable whole-systems change that they were able to maintain for the last 3 years, with fascinating results. Complaints are at an all-time low, vacancies are filled, no agency staff are needed and work satisfaction is up. A crucial part of this was supporting the workforce to deliver relationship-based care.

What have Brighton & Hove done to support their social workers?

I’d like to highlight 4 things that BHCC have done for their workforce: first, creating smaller teams with less bureaucracy; second, giving power back to the frontline; third, purposeful recruitment; and fourth, increasing support for staff.

1. Smaller teams with less bureaucracy

Instead of having separate teams for assessment, intake, care etc., new multidisciplinary ‘pods’ of roughly 7 workers were created. These pods would accompany a child/young person from the first time they got in touch with social work to when they no longer needed that support. Whether it’s 1 week crisis work, long-term placement support, or anything in between. This new layout of the team encourages 3 things: continuity of relationships, consistency in caseload and an environment where staff can learn from each other. Importantly, a pod manager sits with the team, rather than in a separate ‘manager’s pod’, making sure they are available when needed. Additionally each pod has a Business Support Officer, which reduces the amount of administrative work for each social worker, enabling them to focus on relationships.

“Before relationship-based practice social workers had a lot of responsibility but not a lot of power, what we attempt to do is to give responsibility and accountability back to the frontline” Tom Stibbs, Principal Social Worker

2. Power back to the frontline

To make things better, Brighton and Hove removed one layer of leadership, and as a result decisions could be made quicker and more efficiently. Importantly, social workers saw a case throughout its journey within the department, which meant that they knew the people they supported really well and were able to make choices that were more beneficial and positive.

3. Purposeful recruitment

The backbone of all this change was getting the right people to join the team. For that, the entire recruitment process was revised. It now places a much greater emphasis on the applicants’ values and motivation, rather than simply qualifications and experience. BHCC also was not afraid to recruit new talent and made it a yearly tradition to hire newly qualified workers from local universities. All applicants are interviewed by a panel that include a young person, because ultimately recruitment should be accountable to the people social work supports.  

“To any work there is ‘Thinking’, ‘Doing’ and ‘Feeling’ and I think recently we’ve focused on the ‘Doing’ while forgetting about the other two, particularly ‘Feeling’” Gillian Ruch, Professor of Social Work

4. Support for staff

Focusing on building relationships can be hard, because families and young people can be dealing with high emotions and difficult situations. To make sure that staff are able to cope they are offered 6 weekly individual supervision meetings, which is standard practice. However, in addition they are offered weekly group supervision – a 2 and a half hour block that is reserved for deep discussion within a pod. Sometimes it can be beneficial to speak to people from other teams, which is why every staff member is part of a reflective practice group that meets once a month to reflect on work more generally.

What were the outcomes of this work?

The results of the work really speak for themselves...

Workload has decreased significantly over the last 3 years: time spent on admin and reports decreased from 39 % in 2018 to 29% in 2019.

This freed up time to spend with children and young people, which increased from 13 to 25% of total workload.

Staff satisfaction: Percentage of staff that feel safe and supported is at an all-time high.

Complaints are down and young people and families report a more positive experience. The number of compliments in 2015 vs 2018:

The number of complaints in 2015 vs 2018:

Throughout this work BHCC have extensively consulted with young people currently in care and those who have left care. To find out more about this, look out for part 2 of this blog.

How can you get involved in our Mapping Relationships project?

Do you know how we could achieve something similar in Scotland, or want to learn more about relationship-based practice? Come to a Mapping Relationship Workshop. There is one in Glasgow, one in Aberdeen and one online – for all those too far to travel.

Book your place here:

Aberdeen Workshop

Glasgow Workshop 

Online Workshop 

Staf is also interested in hearing about your experience of working in the Scottish care environment through this survey.

Complete the Relationships Survey

Feel free to share this survey link with colleagues.

You can view some of the twitter highlights from Norma (Staf CEO) and I's trip to Brighton below: 

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the Mapping Relationships project, get in contact with me on: [email protected]