Wakefield Families Together – Vision and opportunity

Published: 04/08/2021

Author: Jenny Lingrell

I joined Wakefield as the Service Director for Children’s Health and Wellbeing in spring 2021, however my reflections as I write this blog take me back to the beginning of the year when I first saw the role advertised and spoke to Beate Wagner, Corporate Director for Children’s Services. What struck me then, and now, was the vision and ambition that creating this role encapsulates.

My role is brand new – not just to me but to the organisation. I work across the local authority and health (with both commissioners and providers) to realise the ambition of creating services and pathways that are integrated and meet the needs of families at the earliest opportunity.

This is made possible by the commitment of strategic leaders in Wakefield who have agreed to allow senior managers to join my virtual team. What’s progressive is that this covers all aspects of the potential interaction that children and families might have with the health offer. I will work with my colleagues from public health and the acute trust, as well as the providers of our 0-19 and Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the district.

It is this breadth of approach that feels both innovative and exciting.

The other significant factor is that Wakefield has already established an operational infrastructure to link the system together through Wakefield Families Together. Notwithstanding a global pandemic, I have arrived to find that teams are already starting to co-locate based on a cluster model, and schools and early years providers are hosting ‘Team Around’ meetings – providing an opportunity for conversations between partners about children we are concerned about. 

Last week I attended my first ‘Team Around the School’ meeting and was struck by the energy and commitment of everyone present – to work together to support families who are facing challenges that can so easily escalate into something more concerning. There was a willingness to blur organisational boundaries and try new things, there was informal and invaluable information sharing.

I could also see opportunities to make new connections – it was striking to me how many of the families, struggling with diverse issues from school refusal to adolescent anger, had visited the GP to discuss their concerns. And we are still so reliant on referral processes to allocate work between us – are there better ways for us to work together to reduce this bureaucracy?

The potential to build and develop this model in Wakefield, and more widely, is there for the taking – but, in many ways these are not new concepts, we have long recognised this opportunity, and I am not naive about the challenges ahead.

It tricky to start a new job in a new organisation when we are necessarily dispersed between home working and sparsely populated buildings. Face-to-face conversations are possible via a screen, but ad-hoc introductions and opportunities to identify a shared interest during a serendipitous corridor conversation just don’t happen. We have made great strides in embracing virtual working during the last year and a half, but will need to pay attention to the next phase to make sure that we don’t lose spontaneity and connectivity.

This challenge is perhaps all the more acute when working across multiple organisations.

The concept of a virtual team, that has sufficient trust (both personal and organisational) to, not just identify joint solutions, but potentially move resources around in a creative way and translate ideas into operational reality is also largely untested. But there is an immediate opportunity to work together to address some of the challenges that the pandemic continues to throw up. We need to get the offer right to reduce pressure on unplanned care and design and reinforce pathways that will wrap around children’s mental and emotional wellbeing needs. I hope we will quickly understand the value of our new approach and its power to enhance and embed the promise of Wakefield Families Together. 

We will also need to jointly navigate the enormous change programme that is unfolding in response to the White Paper (and impending legislation) Integration and innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all. We think we might have weathered the pandemic storm but have one eye on the horizon for what might be coming next, we are tired, we are re-inventing how we work together and must continue to meet the needs of children, young people and families.

But I am optimistic and positive. What I have consistently witnessed in my first few weeks in Wakefield are leadership behaviours and a culture that are unwavering in their commitment to integration and mutual support.

The foundations are strong – we can build with confidence – we will evaluate and share our impact as we go.

Jenny Lingrell

Jenny Lingrell is the Service Director for Children’s Health and Wellbeing in Wakefield.