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Costs, complexity and compassion

13 August 2019

Rebecca GodarRebecca Godar

Leaders of services across the children’s and adults’ sector are navigating difficult decisions in which three factors loom large – the cost of meeting people’s needs, the complexity of people’s lives and the interconnectedness of solutions, and the moral imperative to ensure that services and systems are grounded in compassion.

This year’s Leader’s Forum is nearly here! This year we’ll be discussing three big issues that we think are on the minds of senior leaders of Children and Adults’ Services up and down the country – costs, complexity and compassion.

We haven’t been able to avoid talk of costs of service provision in the context of austerity. Making the most of every pound to improve outcomes for children, young people and adults has never been more important, or harder to do. Understanding how costs are distributed across the social care system, and where the money goes and what you get for it, are crucial to working within the shrinking budgets that so many local authorities are facing.

Two speakers from the children’s sector will address the issue of cost from different perspectives. Lisa Holmes from the Rees Centre will be talking about the children’s services cost calculator and how it can help authorities to understand unit costs of social care. And Kathy Evans from Children England will challenge us to think about how the involvement of the private sector in residential care may distort the relationship between costs and outcomes.

But we know that understanding what a service costs is not enough to understand its impact. Individual lives are complex. We often use the term ‘complex needs’ to signify those in our society with multiple, overlapping needs, but in fact all individuals, you and me included, are complex beings with identities, needs, strengths and aspirations. Social expectations and responses to our identities adds further complexity, in the form of discrimination and oppression.

As a result of this complexity, people are often receiving help from more than one service, while others are completely unseen by services. The cost to them and to the public purse of failing to respond to the complexity of their lives must be part of the cost equation.

A number of speakers will be addressing this theme, and providing some practical examples of how senior leaders can face up to complexity:

  • Professor Brid Featherstone from the University of Huddersfield will discuss the issues of identity and inequality through the lens of domestic abuse.
  • Toby Lowe from the University of Northumbria will present findings from is work on Human Learning Systems, developing systems that respond to people with multiple and complex needs.
  • Derek Tracy from Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust will examine how integration may, or may not, support services to work with multiple needs.
  • Charlotte Ramsden from Greater Manchester will present on the complexities of working across geographical boundaries in Greater Manchester.
  • Dara de Burca from The Children’s Society will talk about how the Children’s Society has used systems change approaches to tackle child exploitation, and supporting practitioners to respond with compassion to change the system around the child.

No matter how services are configured or costs calculated, the relationship between the practitioner and the child, family or adult is crucial to bringing about change. Kindness and compassion are closely related to complexity, in that it takes active listening and non-judgement to understand the lived experience of people’s lives, particularly when confronted with behaviour and actions that seem irrational or self-defeating.

To focus on the moral imperative to ensure that services and systems are grounded in compassion, Ligia Texiariafrom the Centre for Homelessness Impact will discuss approaches to engaging and supporting people who are homeless, addressing complexity with compassion. Additionally, Becca Dove and Tim Fisher from the London Borough of Camden will present their work ‘listening with compassion to families involved in the child protection system’ and the findings from this work.

Keeping all three themes in mind is no easy task, yet the evidence suggests that it is necessary to do so, if we are to design and provide services to meet the needs of children, families and adults.

If this has got you intrigued, come and explore costs, complexity and compassion with our peers and colleagues at Leaders’ Forum on 26-27 September in Birmingham. Places are still available for Directors and Assistant Directors in Partner network organisations.

I look forward to seeing you there.


About the author

Rebecca Godar is an Associate of Research in Practice and Research in Practice for Adults.


Related resources and learning events

Costs, complexity and compassion: Leaders’ Forum

26-27 September, Birmingham

Leaders of services across the children’s and adults’ sector are navigating difficult decisions in which three factors loom large – the cost of meeting people’s needs, the complexity of the people’s lives and the interconnectedness of solutions, and the moral imperative to ensure that services and systems are grounded in compassion. Keeping all three themes in mind is no easy task, yet the evidence suggests that it is necessary to do so, if we are to design and provide services to meet the needs of children, families and adults.

Run jointly by Research in Practice and Research in Practice for Adults, this year’s Leaders’ Forum will bring together colleagues from statutory and voluntary sector organisations, policy and academia to discuss the evidence base and sector experiences in working at the interface between cost, complexity and compassion.

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