Monmouthshire County Council Children’s Services

DNA Definitive support Children’s Services through a period of restructure and relocation

DNA works with 100-strong team to support 'children first' policy alongside compliance and consistency


Client: Monmouthshire County Council
Department: Children's Services
Timescale: February 2014 - August 2014


The Background

Monmouthshire County Council Children’s Services provides a multi-disciplinary service offering health and social care disciplines via a team of 100 people. Professionals include social workers, contact officers, youth offending officers, administrators, fostering services, and more.

In 2013 a restructure of the service took place within the Children’s Services aspect of the department and in 2014 the majority of the team moved from two locations to one location at the Council offices in Magor.


The Challenges

“The very nature of working with children means that you have to carefully balance the needs of the client (which is at the heart of everything we do) alongside good practice and compliance.”

— Tracy Jelfs, Head of Children’s Services, Monmouthsire County Council

A team that was recovering from a restructure, which in some cases resulted in members hiding behind policies and procedures and avoiding levels of responsibility, meant that there was a general reluctance to embrace change and reassess existing procedures, systems and to think about their working practices differently.

Issues with IT, the amount of casework across the department and often over complicated procedures created barriers to delivering services that ensured the most efficient and effective outcomes.

“We wanted to encourage social workers to ‘play and engage’ again and to be focused completely on where they could best meet the needs of the children and families, not be bogged down with systems and hierarchies. We wanted staff to become leaders and move away from the micro-management of teams, ultimately with the aim of improving practice as well as motivation amongst staff.”


The Solution

DNA Definitive met with Tracy and many members of the entire service team. Staff were given the choice of speaking with DNA or not, and the sessions varied in length.

Questions were asked such as:

“What would need to change to make it fun and enjoyable for you to come to work?”

Working alongside Tracy, Paul identified areas where it was felt change was necessary and in many cases Tracy already had potential solutions in mind, but needed the independent and impartial support to instigate those changes.

The team structure charts were discarded in an effort to truly breakdown institutional barriers and improve practice and maturity across the board. A flatter structure meant that every team member had access to every other team member, without having to go through a hierarchy of contact and management.

Staff were discouraged from micro-managing teams, and to demonstrate her own commitment to change, Tracy decided not to respond to emails that weren’t directly sent to her (i.e. not just CC’ed in) for a period of two weeks.

“As with any senior staff member, there are emails and information where you’re copied in just as a fail-safe mechanism. I wanted to move away from that to encourage staff, who are extremely capable, to make the decisions themselves, and to come to me when they genuinely deemed it necessary and had exhausted their own skills and knowledge. This wasn’t to avoid decision-making on my part, but to empower the workforce and encourage responsibility. I am always available for any staff member, but spreading both the skills and responsibility is vital for the sustainability of the team and also individual career progression.”

As a result of only reading emails directly addressed to her, alongside a strategy of prioritization of all tasks and a focus on reducing meetings that were duplication or not aligned to the focus of the work Tracy cleared four extra days in her diary in the first month.

Simple solutions such as securing mobile phones for staff members who were out on the road and sometimes in difficult and challenging situations, was something that DNA also worked with the team to secure. Establishing a weekly work plan meeting and establishing a Service dedicated web page on the intranet has also worked towards improving internal communications and raising the profile of the good work the Service provides.


The Impact

The department is still in a state of change and internal reassessment, but the building blocks of greater and wider responsibility and motivation have been established.

“We had previously worked with other methodologies, which focused on the idea that if you sort out the systems then the rest will follow and work as a result. I instinctively didn’t buy into this practice and with people, specifically children, as our key focus, we had to ensure we were thinking in more ‘human’ terms and the ultimate unpredictability and chaos that accompanies this, along with changes to working cultures that were required.

We need our staff to be able to make decisions and take responsibility in what can often be quite challenging circumstances. Systems and procedures have a place in this but they are not the key and will not provide the ultimate answer.

Dr. Paul Thomas and the DNA Definitive team have encouraged and supported both myself and the staff to take a leap of faith in many circumstances, whilst absolutely capitalizing on the talent and expertise of the team.

The improvements in technology, internal communications and a flatter structure have gone a long way to improving vital communications and ensuring all staff have a wider knowledge of the successes and challenges of the Service as a whole.”


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