Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, Behaviour Change across the system of support: Suffolk County Council

The 2015 Care Act and 2014 Children and Families Act gave young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities more rights to support and for longer. Whilst being a much needed and well received pieces of progressive legislation, they presented severe problems in a system primarily driven by resource limitations.

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From my experience in working with complex systems, I pitched an opportunity to set up and run an experimental approach to behaviour change. Located on the boundary between children’s and adults social care, working alongside operational staff, parent carers, commissioning staff, and partners in the education, health and VCSE sectors. The small, diverse team I led, developed deep insight into behavioural issues across the system, and created structured opportunities for systems change to emerge.

The challenge

The particularly fragmented nature of support for 14-25-year olds, not only across the age divide but across the services of education, health and social care, made the context much more resistant to change. The relationships didn’t exist across organisational boundaries, information didn’t flow, assumptions were all too often made. This stressed the sub-system far more than others around it. Even those who had some experience of the benefits of support designed around young people, felt powerless to address the underlying issues.

The solution

We did three things as a team:

1. We bought ourselves credibility as an ‘outsider’ by making it easier for staff and partners to share information. Re-designing processes that worked with their existing behaviours. Carefully withdrawing our ‘intermediary’ role so as not to create further

2. We used these activities to gain deep insight into the patterns of behaviour and motivations of those involved. We involved commissioners and senior service managers to find windows of opportunity for more formal collaboration. We designed purposeful
structured thinking sessions, that enabled participants to immerse themselves in the behaviour that was occurring. They created
their own ‘aha’ moments, and pressure to mobilise together. We developed a number of ‘test and learn’ sites around ‘live’ issues
such as ‘behaviour that challenges’ and ‘leaving care’.

3. We created opportunities for new innovation to develop. Working with national experts, local influencers, and ultimately a few groups of agitated parent carers. We created the demand for innovative approaches from outside of the local authority, and a network of public sector employees that were receptive to them.

The impact

At the time we costed a number of cases where parent carers had indicated they were seeking intensive specialist support, and then – following participation in one of our areas of work – instead began working progressively with receptive local support. The additional costs to the Local Authority would have been in the order of £100k per year for each placement.

At the time the SEND reforms were brought in, The National Audit Office was quoting lifetime financial savings of £1.5m per person experiencing a good life in the community, instead of intensive specialist support. Our work was contributing to these longer-term financial savings. I pitched the work to the Municipal Journal Behaviour Change award in 2016, and we won. Demonstrating clear impact in a complex area of social change to the panel.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The experience of working in this collaborative way on innovation continues in the Local Authority, championed by individuals and teams that participated in this work.

Lessons learned

At the time, there were fewer shared experiences of explicit systems change or behavioural insights work. Inevitably this made it harder to manage these amongst the raft of change initiatives competing for support. Now in 2020, the case for this type of work, and the way of strategically leading it, is much more widely evidenced. The challenge will continue to remain in investing in innovation.


Julie Bateman ([email protected])
Assistant Director, Quality and Safeguarding, Adult Social Care, Suffolk County Council (Senior Management Team Lead/line manager) (retired in 2017).