‘Empathy, tenacity and compassion’: An evaluation of relationship-based practice in Brighton & Hove
University of Sussex, Centre for Social Work Innovation and Research – July 2017
Executive Summary In October 2015 Brighton & Hove implemented relationship-based practice as a whole system change across Children’s Social Work Services. The new model of practice, the Team Around the Relationship, involved a move to small social work teams, or pods, which support children from the assessment stage through the whole of their journey across social work services. The Team Around the Relationship is premised on the idea that, if social workers feel safe and contained, they can build relationships with families and use these relationships to affect change. The model of practice, therefore, incorporates group supervision, reflective practice groups and a new model of relationship-based assessment and recording, One Story, as key processes to support whole system change. The practice system is supported by a cultural transformation towards becoming a relationship-based organisation, which inspires trust and confidence in its practitioners. Brighton & Hove’s vision for the new model was assessed by Ofsted in June 2015 as being “coherent, with the right balance of care for social workers, relationships with families and performance management. It is being introduced in a measured way through constructive engagement with staff.” (Ofsted, 2015) To measure the impact of the Team Around the Relationship we are undertaking an ongoing evaluation based on a targeted consultation to test our theory of change. The evaluation focuses on the context, mechanisms and outcomes of the model of practice. This paper outlines the findings of the evaluation so far and sets out the key messages from the first 20 months - in doing so it captures the implementation of the new model as it is emerging as part of a cycle of continuous evaluation. It is principally presented in the words of practitioners and the families they work with, supplemented by examples from practice, in order to provide a richness and depth to the findings. The title is taken from a parent’s description of the qualities demonstrated by the social worker supporting their family. The evaluation has found that, in general: families have a better experience of social work; social workers feel more supported and more able to make a difference for families; relationship-based practice seems to be supporting safe and stable family lives for children, and; the model of practice appears to have decreased demand for social work (a 5.4% decrease in the number of open families) and high-level interventions (a 10% decrease in both children with child protection plans and in care) during a time of increasing national demand.