"Social services are broken. How we can fix them."

I would like to recommend a Ted Talk by Hilary Cottam called ‘Social Services are broken. How we can fix them.’

https://www.ted.com/talks/hilary_cottam_social_services_are_broken_...

If you don’t have 17 minutes to listen to the whole video, try the first 5 minutes.

If you don’t have 5 minutes, you can read the transcript of the video at: https://www.ted.com/talks/hilary_cottam_social_services_are_broken_...

And if you only have a couple of minutes, I have made a summary of the first 5 minutes of the video below.

“Ella lives on a run-down estate in England. The shops are closed: the pub has gone: the playground is desolate. Inside her house, the television is on at full volume. One of her sons is fighting with one of her daughters. Another son is keeping up a stream of abuse in her kitchen. Ella is stuck. She has lived with crisis for 40 years. She knows nothing else and she know no way out. Ella feels that she is repeating the cycle of her own mother’s life before her.

So why don’t the Social Services help her? Well, they do. In the city where she lives 73 different services run by 24 departments are available. Ella, her partners and her children are known to most of them. They have been intervening for 30 years and nothing changes. The UK government says that each family like Ella’s cost £250,000 a year.

It’s important to understand that it is the system that costs £250,000 a year. None of the money touches Emma’s family in way that makes a difference. One social worker recorded that he spent 86% servicing the system: meetings, forms, meeting about forms, more meetings. The other 14% is spent with the family collecting data to fill out the forms for the meetings. There is no time for a conversation.

The leaders of the city took a very brave step. They would reverse the ratio. Anyone who worked with Ella would spend 80% of their time working with the family and 20% of the time servicing the system. And then they took an even braver step. Ella would decide who was going to help her. The system would not manage her: she would manage the system.

So Ella asked everyone who came through the door, “What will you do when my son starts kicking me?” If the answer was, “I will leave the house, listen at the door and then call my supervisor,” then that person was out. When a  policeman came, he said, “I’ll tackle him to the ground and then I’m not sure what I’ll do.”  He was in. The policeman took an action that helped and confessed he didn't necessarily have the answers. The people Ella recognised as helping her showed their human qualities and convinced her that they would stick with her through thick and thin, even though they wouldn't be soft with her.

The small team selected by Ella were given a very small part of the former budget and they could spend it as they wished. In a short time something new started to grow: a relationship. And then remarkable changes took place. Ella has a paid job and her children are back in school.

So I'm telling you about Ella because I think that relationships are the critical resource we have in solving some of these intractable problems. But today, our relationships are all but written off by our politics, our social policies, our welfare institutions. And I've learned that this really has to change.”

It really is listening to the whole video or reading the full transcript.

Here are 3 things that I take from this story:

1. Problems are solved through relationships, not by systems. If we have systems, design them to support relationships

2. There is a difference between Ella being managed by the system and Ella managing the system.

3. Experts don’t come with the answers. They take actions that help. They make it clear that they don’t have all the answers.

There is a lot more in the Ted Talk.

(My thanks to Jean-Louis for pointing me to this Ted Talk.)

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Comment by Joke D´haese on March 9, 2016 at 7:29pm

Hi Phil, thank you for sharing!

In my humble life experience as a friend, daughter, sister, social worker and change facilitator, having managed numerous change programs in NGO's, government and corporate world, I was always looking for sustainable ways to support improvement of life quality.

The best and probably only things that I found to sustain positive change in the long run are genuine passion and caring relationships. Only they stand the test of time and are able to survive changing life situations... 

The ted talk underlines that it is thanks to our communities that we become more life competent. For me another reason to celebrate Community Life Competence!

Thank you fellow traveler for sharing this passion and belief! 

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