This case study describes the process of resurrecting the Early Years and Childcare Strategy in Bracknell Forest. The support programme engaged a total of 12 LAs in a process to support the best coordination of services, legal compliance and improved outcomes for children and families.
This case study describes the process of resurrecting the Early Years and Childcare Strategy in Bracknell Forest. The process was supported by the LGA (funded by the DFE) who recognised through the peer review process that many LAs lack an overarching strategic framework and approach to early years. The support programme engaged a total of 12 LAs in a process to support the best coordination of services, legal compliance and improved outcomes for children and families.
All LAs engaged were offered a series of engagement sessions, presentations, guidance and tools to use locally as well engagement in a facilitated online peer network.
Like many LAs Bracknell Forest has seen a great deal of pressure from reducing resources yet escalating need. The early years services had been moved from being part of Early Help to Education and Learning, which illustrated that where ever the services sit, joint working across a range of departments and agencies is critical to meet the needs of our youngest children, who are part of families and communities of course too.
Service delivery has been good with a very experienced and committed team and leader. Resource pressures had however left the services working in a reactive way, as opposed to pro-actively planning the most effective use of policies and resources.
There was also a concern that for a range of reasons the profile of early years was not valued at a strategic level, in comparison to the Schools, Safeguarding or SEND agendas.
The Local Authority were invited to take part in a webinar outlining the experience of Local Authority previously supported by the LGA. From there they were offered support in the form of 5 days consultancy and a process which had proved successful with previous LAs.
The process of support included:
- Presentations and facilitated conversations with senior managers across agencies and departments to support ownership strategically.
- Engagement sessions supporting providers, service leads and parents/carers.
- A report constructed around the relevant legal duties and local context, providing a series of recommendations for the Local Authority to develop the strategy from.
- A feedback session involving senior leaders in a discussion about next steps.
Throughout the support the Local Authority embraced every step and utilised it to enable much needed “stop the clock’ time to move from reaction to planning.
A number of recommendations were made in the report relating to accountability and reporting, service positioning and structure, culture of working, coproduction and development of services by and for families, inclusion.
The process of support was also critical in supporting positive impact which included:
- Re-energising the team and services leads, (creating space to plan and share understanding). The head of service Cherry recently described a team day following on from the support,
“The buzz in the room was almost tangible. I stood back and watched staff who had previously been frustrated make links and get creative. We have an amazing set of people and a very positive service. It was great to see them begin to build our services even further towards where we want to be”
- Providing a process, materials and report which supports wider department and agency engagement (for example sections of the report have been used already by the Early Help Head of Service.
- Re-engaging wider partners, for example health colleagues.
- Discussions have begun about the role and commissioning of health visitors and the integrated review.
- There has been a shift in early years being seen as “Cherry’s role” to everyone’s business. For example “what can we each do” as oppose to “can you…?”.
- Clearer roles and responsibilities have emerged as a result of revisiting our functions within a strategic framework, which has improved joint working and shared responsibility.
- Early years is now a Children’s Service and Local Authority priority so the work has improved the profile locally significantly.
- Understanding of the impact and shared responsibility has helped shift thinking from focusing on the highest levels of needs to early intervention.
Cherry shared a case recently of a teenager who attempted to take their own life:
Tracking back we can all see how intervention earlier could have helped this young person. It isn’t that we can prevent every young person from having an incredibly challenging life. But we can do our best through working pre-birth to five to ensure resilience is built foundationally, so they are more likely to cope in less adverse ways.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The conversations started at a strategic level will be continued to next take key areas of the report recommendations and begin to develop the strategy. Some specific areas of work will also be progressed;
- Continue the conversations with health colleagues to better integrate services for families.
- The process of support has kick started a strategy around coproduction, moving us from consulting with families, to co-producing strategies and adopting a community development approach to service delivery which places families as central.
Cherry was asked what she would advise a Local Authority who were considering writing an early years and childcare strategy, “go for it!” was her response. She states;
It can feel really isolating leading early years services and operating in a reactive, crisis management type approach. Reaching out and linking with other LAs helps share the load and support you to know you are not alone.
The investment is not necessarily financial, but the time, expertise and knowledge within and outside of a Local Authority is endless and invaluable to ensuring early intervention is managed effectively. The process is as important as the end document.
“It takes a proactive approach to raise the profile of early years and secure senior management support across agencies. It can be overwhelming but there are a lot of things you can do to drive that. Don’t give up!”