Keeping Surrey’s Children in Care Out of Trouble

Blog contributed by Ben Byrne – Head of Youth Support, Surrey County Council

Ben ByrneWhen we bring a child into the care of the state we have an obligation to make sure we are improving their life chances and being the very best parents we can be.

Unfortunately too often our care system can exacerbate the problems in the lives of children and this is most apparent when we respond in heavy-handed and ill thought through ways to the behaviour exhibited by children who have already been harmed by their previous life experiences.

The outcome is that far too many children in care are drawn into the justice system and ultimately this downward spiral results in about a third of all serving prisoners having had experience of the care system.

The fact that children in care get into trouble has often been seen as one of those intractable problems that will always be with us. The experience in Surrey over recent years, however, demonstrates that through a unifying vision, shared commitment, effective partnership action and dogged perseverance a complex and seemingly ‘wicked’ social challenge is amenable to change.

We have now had our seventh consecutive year of reducing numbers of Surrey children in care who come into contact with the formal criminal justice system (now just 13 of the 450 children aged over 10 years old in our care). This achievement has attracted national recognition and featured prominently in the recently published Laming Review – In Care, Out of Trouble.

How has this been possible and what have been the key ingredients to our success?

Ambition – Nothing changes very much when we concentrate our efforts on explaining and justifying a situation. Having gained a good understanding of the problem of over-representation of children in our care in the criminal justice system and been honest with ourselves about the extent of the challenge, we agreed to take collective responsibility through our partnership Corporate Parenting Board. Critically we not only believed that we SHOULD do something about it, but that we COULD do something about it.

Culture, mindset and partnership – So, critical to building on our ambition was to win hearts and minds, change attitudes, inspire belief and confidence in change, build consensus and create momentum, a climate of shared responsibility and obligation to work together in partnership – with a shared vision, clear and common purpose, and critically, a presumption NOT to criminalise children in care wherever this could be avoided.

Strategy, policy and procedures – Embedded in day-to-day practice and more than words on paper! The development of a Reducing Offending by Children in Care Strategy and a Reducing Offending by Children in Care Multi Agency Protocol with governance and oversight provided by the Corporate Parenting Board, a multi agency steering group and a Practitioner Forum were all important in ensuring that all agencies played their part.

This involved reducing the need for criminal justice responses through positive parenting (see below); active system management (where children did come into contact with the police) to ensure diversion from prosecution wherever possible; and rigorous data capture and analysis to track progress and review/amend the strategy where necessary.

Because some of our children live outside of Surrey we also spread our practice to neighbouring authorities and police services agreeing a South East Protocol for reducing the criminalisation of children in care.

Positive parenting – To be the best parents we can be for the children in our care we needed to equip our carers with the understanding and skills to ‘get ahead of the behaviour’ that in the past had led to police call outs.

By building the confidence and competence of our residential and foster carers through restorative practice, social pedagogy and understanding traumas and attachment we have become better parents and created the best environments for our children to live in.

Perseverance – We have played the long game knowing that the transformation of culture and practice takes time. Partnership is easier to say than it is to do and we have had to keep going despite day-to-day difficulties and disagreements, remembering that the overall vision can only be achieved together.

This means learning from mistakes, making necessary adjustments to the strategy when it’s not working, being open to continuous learning and improvement and relentlessly caring about each and every child. Each year brought us more stories of success for children and changes in culture and practice that we celebrated and used to renew our collective endeavour.

While the figures give us great encouragement that we have done a good thing, nothing speaks more clearly than a visit to one of our residential homes and seeing children who are obviously thriving supported by confident, warm, skilled carers. That’s the best way to reduce offending by children in care and we can be proud in Surrey that that is what we have achieved.

Learning about Lean Continuous Improvement

Laura BrandBlog contributed by Laura Brand – Policy and Research Officer, Surrey County Council

As a newcomer to the change community of practice here at Surrey County Council, the idea of Lean Continuous Improvement was not only a new concept to me, but one that frightened me to be frank.

It was therefore a relief to discover that Lean Continuous Improvement is not corporate jargon, but a mindset. It is therefore entirely up to you how much or how little you choose to embrace the ideology behind it, and there is an endless amount of reading into the subject that you can do.

Surrey is running an Introduction to Lean Continuous Improvement half-day workshop once a month across a range of County Council locations. (If you’re reading this on a SCC device and have access to the self-service portal, search for ‘Lean’ in the course catalogue.)

Our Business Improvement team are also available to run bespoke sessions for individual groups of up to 10 people, so here in Policy and Partnerships we attended a workshop as part of an extended team meeting.

The workshop is entirely practical, using a simple but effective exercise to get you thinking with a Lean mindset – but fear not if you are someone who shrivels at the mention of a ‘practical exercise’, it’s very gentle!

Lean processSo what is Lean? After a single session I am certainly not claiming to be an expert, but it is easy to explain and understand.

Lean is about simplifying everyday systems and processes, whilst also challenging ourselves to improve personal performance.

It’s not about trying to tackle every problem at once within an organisation, but tackling things one problem at a time. It raises some interesting thoughts on transforming services, and how we should be using transformation as a method of improvement rather than one of complete overhaul.

Lean also explores the concept of ‘waste’ within our work. In a work culture where employees are often duplicating work or being expected to do something to the best possible standard we frequently run the risk of over-thinking something or even creating work for the sake of it.


Whilst it may seem like an alien concept to many, I learnt that it’s perfectly acceptable to take a slower pace in our approach to work, and to be honest in recognising problems within a process in order to find effective countermeasures.

The biggest learning point from my first experience of Lean is that it doesn’t matter if a process isn’t perfect first time round, or if the process still isn’t perfect after tackling all the original issues.

The clue is in the title (the training’s called continuous improvement for a reason!). I am already more accepting of when new issues arise in my work – when you’re implementing changes in a process, new problems are naturally likely to arise.

It’s a case of prioritising which are the most important, and accepting that some issues are so minor you might never get round to resolving them.

Finally, I have learnt to always look for opportunities to improve – you can never achieve perfection, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

Developing strong communities in Tandridge – where next?

Blog contributed by Tom Davis – Project Assistant, Surrey County Council and Marnie Cotterill – Social Care Development Co-ordinator, Surrey County Council

Blindley Heath imageWe last updated you back in March about the project we had initiated aimed at building community support in the village of Blindley Heath in Tandridge.

In our last update we explained how we had mapped the community assets of the area and made contact with some members of the community. We shared our ideas of how the existing assets had the potential to be used for community projects such as a regular lunch club or a satellite food bank.

Our next step was to set up a meeting with the local community representatives and have a discussion about what services or support Blindley Heath was in need of.

Prior to setting up this meeting , we had some new organisations contact us about being involved in the project!

As a result of our blog on Shift we were contacted by Sight for Surrey. They were keen to work with us on the project as one of their objectives is to develop their services in the more rural parts of Tandridge.

In addition, Tandridge Trust Leisure Services had also heard about the project and suggested they would like to work with us to increase the provision of leisure activities in the area. This enthusiasm from other partners was very welcome and we invited both organisations to the meeting with the community which had now been organised for May.

From the meeting – also attended by Adult Social Care, First Community Health and Care, and local representatives from the church, it was ascertained that the church had made great efforts in hosting community activities, but they had been poorly attended by those from outside the church community. We also discovered that the church had a building that could be utilised; however it was in need of some care and attention.

The group also agreed that the village would benefit from setting up activities aimed at older people who were socially isolated. Due to the rural location and a lack of transport links, church representatives confirmed that there are isolated people in the village who would benefit from more local activity.

We also ascertained that communication in the area was a problem. The area did not receive a local paper so had no access to local news and activities. We discovered the church does have a magazine but cannot send it to the whole community due to a lack of resources.

We left the meeting feeling that this project was certainly going to be a challenge but that by working together we could start some meaningful community activity in the area.

Next steps …

Our next aim is to meet again as a working group to form a firm proposal of what we can achieve using existing resources. From this meeting, we hope to finalise what activity we can start in the coming months as well as deciding how we can overcome the communication barriers in Blindley Heath