Creating the mould for how to help troubled families in Staffordshire

Anita Saigal
Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

In Staffordshire, skilled craftsmen produce the finest ceramics including earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. They utilise many diverse techniques to mould these, resulting in different looks or styles – depending on what outcome they are trying to achieve.

Pottery was one of my favourite extra-curricular activities at school, so, a few weeks ago, as I made the journey to Stafford to meet the Troubled Families team there, I reflected upon how I was visiting somewhere so famous for its lovely pottery.

My visit to Staffordshire was part of the Centre’s work on the Troubled Families Health Information Sharing Project, which you can read the background to here. As part of my visit, I was keen to discuss the different approaches the team are using to mould their service, in order to better support local families with complex problems. The examples I found (outlined below) demonstrated the ‘buy-in’ of key health and council services to a shared local vision – enabling families to be ‘safe, healthy, self-reliant, educated, responsible and informed’[1] by coordinating support across local services – delivered through a partnership approach to workforce development, joint commissioning, and improved information sharing.

The Staffordshire team has been really positive about meeting with us and made it possible for me to meet with a large number of their team, so firstly I’d like to thank them for making this happen. This blog sets out some of my initial findings, and represents the start of an ongoing journey with the Building Resilient Families team in Staffordshire, with a more detailed case study and report to follow later in the year.

The first day of my visit was action packed, as myself and my colleague had detailed discussions with many people including the Building Resilient Families and Communities Co-ordinator, the Commissioning Manager for Mental Health, the Head of Child Health and Wellbeing, the County Commissioner for Children’s Health and Wellbeing and the Project Lead for Children and Families Transformation work. This was just day one…. and it goes to show how many different people and organisations are needed to support families with multiple issues to address.

We were keen to find out more about the different methods of information sharing across partner agencies, so it was interesting to hear from the Commissioning Manager for Mental Health about the mental health awareness training course they run. This course is designed to share information and develop the multi-agency workforce who deliver Staffordshire’s Troubled Families programme.  This enables the team to know when and how to refer and signpost people to access local Mental Health services.  It does this by helping them to assess and identify low level anxiety disorders and depression and know what to say to people to help them better understand and manage their symptoms.

The Troubled Families team at Staffordshire are keen to evaluate the impact of this training, to see how sharing information about mental health services with front-line staff can help identify and support local families. With this in mind, we discussed opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of this training in terms of recording the number of referrals (to Mental Health services) coming through from the Troubled Families route, and looking at recovery rate information to compare recovery rates for individuals receiving support from Troubled Families programme with those that are not. An opportunity which might form part of our ongoing work with Staffordshire over the next few months.

As well as sharing information through joint workforce training, the Troubled Families team in Staffordshire are also embedding information sharing in their commissioning activity. This is a developing area for the team, and in relation to school nursing, they acknowledge that at first they didn’t get this quite right, so they didn’t receive all the data they required.  However, the team are developing this approach further by ensuring more explicit clauses are included within the Commissioning Agreement for this service, this is another area of development which we hope to capture more fully in the coming months as part of our Staffordshire case study.

As much as we’d all love to get things 100% right on our very first go, Staffordshire are a good example of how it’s also important to be able to adapt and be flexible in how we go about things and change how we work, when required. It also can be just as important to understand the reasons why something hasn’t worked perfectly first time around, as it is to understand the reasons behind why it did. It’s this kind of insight that will be able to help other local places further down the line.

Talking with Barbara, the Building Resilient Families and Communities Co-ordinator, we heard how they got ‘buy in’ from health professionals and GPs in Litchfield, and how awareness of the Troubled Families programme has resulted in referrals from local GPs there. We also had a useful discussion about strategic leadership, and it is clear that this may be another area which the Staffordshire Troubled Families team are keen to explore further in terms of representation on the Families Partnership Executive Group.

Going back to my pottery lessons, I realised that while some of my creations didn’t always turn out as I wanted on the first attempt, I would look at why the issue arose, such as the clay drying out too quickly, and I would apply a pragmatic, fairly well informed solution to try again and improve it. It seems that the Troubled Families team in Staffordshire have also used this pragmatic approach to shape their services, and by doing so, they’ve been able to make the progress they have to date and helped many families in Staffordshire in the process. To read the case study later in the year, keep an eye on our twitter feed, or sign up to our newsletter.

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