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After the Grenfell tragedy: The Chalcots experience

12 March 2018

Kim ChristodoulouKim Christodoulou

A Camden Council Service Manager reflects upon the learning from the Chalcots Estate evacuation that occurred after the Grenfell tragedy and outlines some of the key social work capabilities needed during and after the evacuation.

Following the tragedy that occurred at Grenfell Tower, the residents of four tower blocks in the Camden Chalcots Estate were evacuated following fire safety concerns. The necessity for the evacuation was widely published with Camden Council releasing the following information:

‘On Friday 23 June 2017, we were advised by the London Fire Brigade to evacuate Burnham, Bray, Dorney and Taplow (within the Camden Chalcots Estate). This was as a result of some identified fire safety works required inside the buildings, together with failed results of tests on the exterior cladding undertaken by the Department of Communities and Local Government.’

The evacuation was widely reported in the media after the announcement. At the beginning of what would be a large operation, an Adult Social Care intervention commenced for those residents in need of care and support during and after the evacuation. 

Traditional care management was put aside whilst statutory, voluntary and community resources were gathered and strengths and risks were explored interdepartmentally. During the evacuation a number of themes emerged, which magnified the inner workings of various council departments and put to test integration at the frontline. Practitioners described operating in a much more strengths and assets-based way and that the learning has been profound, highlighting debates in professional social work practice, risk assessment, and interdepartmental work.

So what did we learn, and what are we still learning?

Professional Social Work Practice - knowledge and skills application

Due to the nature of the Chalcots intervention a lot of face to face work was done with residents. Social workers reported the following key professional capabilities during the intervention:

  • Advocacy and the protection and promotion of human rights.
  • Key communication skills, building trust and rapport.
  • An in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Care Act 2014, the statutory guidance and its application.
  • The application of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
  • An in-depth understanding of safeguarding and experience of multiagency partnership working.
  • Knowledge of social work theory and approaches, community work and local resources.

There were some challenging situations, which required sensitive management. Through those experiences the staff teams have gained some extraordinary learning opportunities.

One example of this was managing the expectations in relation to the role and influence of social workers. During the evacuation many referrals were made, substantially increasing the need to respond. Several social workers were based in the community. Once the essential fire safety works had taken place and the decision was made for the residents to return, many were still extremely anxious and concerned, relying on social workers for support. The staff worked very closely with housing colleagues in order to support residents effectively and this resulted in some challenging and courageous conversations. They also gained a much deeper understanding of the resources that are available and the role that we can play in coordinating systemically and using a strengths based approach.

The reflective practice opportunities have been immense as social workers faced individual, family, group and community work interventions having to rely on a myriad of approaches including; crisis and task centered practice, systems and ecological practice, strengths based practice and social and community development (Payne, 2016).

Risk prevention

A number of risks emerged for people with disabilities, health and mental health conditions having to leave their homes and their existing social support networks in a short space of time. Appropriate accommodation had to be sourced taking into consideration the needs of each individual. Whilst some of the residents were able to access hotel accommodation, others were in need of specialised support, including residential and nursing home care.

One of the major strengths of the evacuation was the unprecedented access to multiagency partners and the mechanisms which allowed for some co-location. There were however a number of challenges and barriers, which despite the best efforts, still emerged. Due to the volume and system pressure, especially in the first 72 hours, there was a high referral rate to social workers for the purpose of managing risk and safeguarding. The threshold for Adult Social Care was unclear interdepartmentally, which led to duplication and confusion over roles and responsibilities. 

In addition, there were some central issues for social workers in statutory settings in relation to the Mental Capacity Act 2005. There were residents who decided not to leave their homes, despite the concerns, making what were deemed to be unwise decisions. Similarly, there were intervention cases with residents who lacked decision-making capacity in relation to care and accommodation. Social workers were tasked with assessing risk and safeguarding in the wider sense, whilst also balancing individual choice and rights. This required many key capabilities from social workers, including critical reflection, acknowledgement of rights and justice, and multiagency working.

During and after the evacuation, step by step work was done around risk prevention across health, social care, housing, mental health and voluntary sector services within Camden. It was clear that this is a complex area of work, which involves critical analysis and judgement as well as resilience in practice. 

Breaking down boundaries

The Chalcots evacuation opened many departmental boundaries, such as sharing information, making key decisions and delegating responsibilities. Leadership was a key strength with those leading the workforce bringing a clear understanding of policies and procedures, ensuring that each department understood their role and contribution.

A number of themes also emerged:

  • The commitment of individuals and shared responsibility was unprecedented and carried much of the intervention.
  • The ability of the workforce and leadership to consistently see the bigger picture and to support the evacuation, which was sustained for weeks after the initial decision making.
  • Effectively challenging existing ways of working, critical thinking and constant problem solving. 
  • Devolving responsibilities and allowing natural leaders to emerge has given rise to new experiences and workforce leadership development.

Whilst I have drawn out a few of the themes, I have in no way done justice to the learning and development that we continue to build upon in Camden Council. It is my hope and intention that we continue to reflect the experiences of the residents and frontline staff over the coming months.


About the author

Kim Christodoulou is a Service Manager at Camden Council.


References 

Camden Council (2017) Chalcots Frequently Asked Questions. Camden Council. Available online: www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/housing/council-tenants-and-leaseholders/housing-repairs-/major-repair-work/chalcots-estate/frequently-asked-questions/?page=1#section-1

Department of Health (2005) Mental Capacity Act. London: HMSO.

Department of Health (2014) Care and Support Statutory Guidance: Issued under the Care Act 2014. London: HMSO.

Payne M (2016) Modern Social Work Theory. Palgrave MacMillan: Basingstoke, UK.

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