Recovery planning for London’s civil society

On Thursday 21st May our Chief Executive Louisa Mitchell was one of the key speakers at a briefing session, hosted by London Plus, on the topic of recovery planning for London’s civil society. Her speech notes follow. 

Hello and thank you for inviting me to speak today. My aim is to explain what we normally do as a charity, how we have responded to lockdown and how we are responding to lockdown’s easing, as well as what we have learned throughout.

Our aim is to bridge the opportunity gap for children and young people in our area, age 3-18 years old, with a personalised 2-year programme that ensures each child gets the right support at the right time.

We are based in north Hammersmith, north Kensington, north Westminster and south Brent,  which make up one of the most unequal areas of the country. 

Our vision is for a community where all children and young people have access to the right support to overcome their challenges and achieve their goals. We work towards fulfilling this vision by allocating each child or young person a West London Zone Link Worker, ordinarily based full time in their school, who will get to know them, their family, their school and their social context, really, really well.

The Link Worker designs and manages a programme for each child together with them, their family and their teachers. This consists of specialist support like therapy, counselling, catch up literacy, drama, woodwork, and more, and is delivered by over 40 partner charities in our area.  This means we are part deliverer and part enabler.

Each child’s plan is dynamic; meaning it is regularly adjusted to meets their developmental needs as they progress, while also supporting each child to improve their outcomes in wellbeing, relationships, confidence and school grades.

How did we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic?

So that was our approach before the lockdown but since then things have changed. We were fortunate, due to our being embedded in the schools we work in, to have had a ‘head’s-up’ on their likely closure. This was immensely helpful and meant that we knew that our school-based model needed to change, and fast. 

So, we reacted quickly and did 3 things to get ready:

  1. We reconsidered the ‘risk profile’ of all the children we support in each school, listened to school leaders and families concerns and determined a lockdown plan for each child in partnership with their school. 
  2. We designed a remote delivery model with phone and video-based support, and also established which Link Workers might be more effective remaining in their school and how that would work. 
  3. We adjusted our data collection and monitoring system to track our activity.

We then moved straight into the resulting new delivery model as soon as schools closed – a huge effort by everyone involved, each of whom who were massively motivated by the shared sense of purpose, working extremely hard to achieve our new model.

Right from the beginning things went to plan, in our first week every single Link Worker had at least 4 meaningful interactions per child and their family - double the normal volume.  They listened very carefully to what families were telling them and we then responded to the immediate emergency needs that surfaced.

We carried on this emergency support over several weeks while continuing to work with all of our specialist partner charities to figure out what remote therapeutic and academic support we could deliver together, and then mobilised that. We also helped ‘our’ families get online with the tablets and tech support they needed too.    

What next? How do we now ease out of lockdown?

During lockdown, most households have largely been doing the same thing, so delivery has been largely remote and relatively consistent across all children supported. But coming out of lockdown, schools and councils will be taking a variety of different approaches. 

For example, last week we had expected to be pivoting our approach once more. We expected to publish a comprehensive plan of our new re-revised delivery model ready for effective service delivery from June 1st – just as we did when we went into lockdown. 

However, we quickly realised that there was far too much uncertainty and anxiety among families and schools for us to do this, so instead we decided that our best plan of action is to hold our nerve, to wait and see and listen very carefully to what to our children, families, and schools tell us they need as things changed. This way we will be better able to flex and adjust accordingly, in response to whatever resulting circumstances arise. 

As such, we will continue with mostly remote delivery (and some face to face delivery in schools where Link Workers have been working throughout lockdown) with the balance of these components starting to shift during June, throughout the summer, and beyond. 

What are the key ingredients of our response to a Covid-19 world?

The reason that we can do this and the reason that I am confident that we can wait, observe, listen carefully before we successfully adjust - quickly, is because in many ways this is what we do already. 

Our regular model is set up to run very personalised, dynamic plans for individual children and young people that involve a lot of different people and organisations. This means we are always regularly adjusting our service as is required.  

The three ingredients that enable this to happen are:

  1. Knowing our children and young people really well. We go through a forensic process of understanding each child’s situation when we identify them for our programme and we invest huge time, resource and skill in listening and in building the relationship.
  2. Having a broad and deep network of local partners who we work closely with – that’s our specialist partner charities who deliver the personalised programmes with us – also our schools, our councils who designed this model with us, and our funders who are very supportive.
  3. Being flexible. We take the approach that no one child is the same and no child progresses in a straight line. That means we design a support plan that suits each child and regularly adapt it to exactly what each child needs at any given time. This requires a very agile delivery model. 

What we have done differently (within these three categories) to ensure that we deliver effectively in the lockdown period, and what I hope will stand us in good stead going forward, is:

  1. Worked on strengthening our relationships with parents and carers. We have always had a focus on engaging with parents and carers to support their child's programme and development, of course, but we have learned ways to improve on how we do that. I have noticed that a repeat refrain from schools has been: ‘your Link Worker has been able to connect with families that we have not been able to'.  
  2. We already work in lockstep with our schools, but we have collaborated even more closely with council teams and funders recently so they were bought into what we were delivering, given it was different. Mutual understanding has deepened and there has been lots of learning. We aim to build on this further, especially as we start to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of our revised model.
  3. We learned that agility is critical for delivering a relevant and useful service and we have built on that, meaning that we will now be more focused than ever on listening very carefully and responding fast to ensure that every child gets what they need, when they need it, in what is going to be an evolving situation over the coming months.

To finish, as you all know none of these ingredients are things that fall into place overnight. Our commissioners, funders and partners have invested in us over several years to get us to this point and for that we are extremely grateful. 

We have different relationships with our various commissioners and funders – including outcomes contracts with some of our commissioners. I think that this sometimes means that from the outside, to some of our stakeholders, we could look like we are all about complex multi-year contracts and data and measurement.  This is true to a degree, but it is our unusual funding model that has enabled us to do the very best work we can, because it allows us to do whatever it takes to help children, to collaborate extensively and to remain absolutely flexible at all times. 

All of the components of delivering a social sector service, such as funding, settings & partnerships, need to be set up to support the end goal. But above all, what we have delivered in recent weeks and will continue to deliver, was made possible by listening, learning, understanding our children and young people really well, while having the adaptability to pivot our delivery practice at pace.  It is this approach that I believe, is the key for all of us who are trying right now to help our communities to achieve their goals. 

together, every child and young person can flourish.