Category Archives: Kathryn Ward

Cross-government working…what I have learnt

Kathryn Ward, Engagement Manager at the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

As I am coming to the end of my two-year secondment at the Centre, I am starting to reflect on both what I have learnt during my time here, and how I can apply this learning when I return to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Two of the main areas that I have had the opportunity and time to explore over the past two years is firstly, the world of academia, and how I can interpret this learning into what I would class as ‘real life’, and secondly, the challenge across government to address and support the mental health needs of young people.

A leadership term that I found resonance with is ‘Systems Leadership’, and I found the paper  ‘Systems Leadership: Exceptional leadership for exceptional times (synthesis paper) a helpful summary of its concepts and what it actually means in practice.

The findings of the study are characterised by two key attributes – firstly, that it is a collective form of leadership; being a concerted effort of many people working together at different places in the system at different levels. Secondly, systems leadership crosses boundaries, both physical and virtual – extending leaders beyond their formal responsibilities and authority. Information sharing is an important part of this, as it is recognised that no single department has the sufficient knowledge in dealing with multi-dimensional issues, and the sharing of information with others has significant beneficial outcomes both for the service-user involved and the organisational resources and positive staff values.

The recent report ‘What really matters in children and young people’s mental health‘ looks at a values-based approach i.e.; ‘what matters’ or ‘what is important’ to those concerned. It makes a number of recommendations including co-production of services with children, young people, parents and carers being beneficial not only for children and young people but also helping them to achieve optimal outcomes.

I have been able to link these two areas, albeit in very tragic circumstances when a school friend of my daughter took his own life over the summer. At the recent GCSE presentation evening, his mum proudly picked up his 9 GCSE passes to a standing ovation from teachers, class mates and parents. I think about this mum a lot, how she supported other students and listened to the rest of the former year 12’s talk about the dreams, ambitions and plans for their future, something which has now been taken away from her.

I do not know whether the education or mental health system failed her and her son, but what I do know is that I have been able to formalise my own thoughts and feelings into something tangible that I can do; by identifying my own ‘personal core values’ and ‘observations and perceptions’ as part of the systems leadership concept…improved children’s mental health awareness, support and learning matters to me.

In researching the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicide, men who kill themselves share three common characteristics: they believe they are a burden; their sense of belonging is thwarted and they have the means and the ability to take their own lives.

On reflecting on this research, what I can do is ensure that young people’s voices are heard nationally as part of the ‘Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper‘.

The government are currently holding a consultation on this (open until the 17 February 2017) to understand why disabled people and people with health conditions might be unable to get a job or keep one, and to recognise the wide range of conditions and circumstances they face. I’d like to encourage anyone who is interested in this to have your say as part of the consultation.

As part of this consultation, the Centre is working with the Joint Work and Health Unit. Further details of this work will be published in the New Year, but one of the aims is to support the DWP workforce to be equipped and trained to support mental health and the opportunities and challenges this presents with the voluntary and charities sector, other government departments and most importantly the individual concerned.