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How can we best support implementation of the GIRFEC approach and National Practice Model?

Children in Scotland Associate Bill Alexander on why we need to improve collaboration to improve outcomes for children.

I’m writing this six weeks into my new role as an Associate with Children in Scotland, where I am working on a project that had been developed in partnership with the Scottish Government and leaders in children’s services.

This project sets out to address a question that has been posed many times at the National Implementation Support Group (NISG) for GIRFEC:

‘How can we best support local partnerships to achieve implementation of the GIRFEC approach and National Practice Model?’

Part of the answer to this question lies in good guidance and supporting materials.  Part of it lies in statutory backing. But NISG always concluded in its many discussions, that fundamentally the answer lies in leadership – across all levels in local and national systems.

'There is enormous consensus about the direction of Scotland’s policies for children, but the agenda is cluttered, and central government needs to be more joined-up'

So, earlier this year, Jackie Brock (CEO of Children in Scotland) and Alice Bayles (Scottish Government GIRFEC lead) decided to take a grip on this leadership challenge. Jackie convened a group of innovative thinkers in leadership development, including a number of third sector colleagues, and worked with Alice to develop this formative thinking into a GIRFEC Leadership Offer – which is where I came in when I left local authority work in October.

The Leadership Offer struck a chord with current thinking in the Scottish Government, which acknowledges what has been said by public and third sector agencies for some time: there is enormous consensus about the direction of Scotland’s policies for children, but the agenda is cluttered and sometimes overwhelming, and central government needs to be more joined-up.

This Leadership Offer recognises that collaboration is an essential component of that agenda, but that it is complex and challenging. It can be difficult for local leaders to effect change alongside their day-to-day responsibilities, not least because the process can prove disruptive to routine business and upset important and ongoing working relationships.

Local implementation of GIRFEC has also not been assisted by the ongoing challenges with the legislative process, and by significant organisational change.  So, the objective is to work with agencies, professional associations and leaders across Scotland, to develop a GIRFEC Leadership Blueprint, which can be used to support local implementation in partnerships across the country. The intention is to trial the blueprint in a couple of partnerships during 2019, and then encourage its use across the country.

We are not starting with a blank sheet of paper with this. The Practice Model has been developed over the past decade, and there is a wealth of material and current activity on collaborative leadership. The added value of this project is that it seeks to make connections across these various initiatives, to build and reinforce the common narrative for children’s services across professional disciplines, and with children and families. It will also take a ‘place-based’ approach, providing support to leaders within their local partnerships, enabling them to apply learning to live situations as part of the ‘day job’.

This project should work for everyone to help support local partnerships to fully implement the Practice Model. That includes across the third sector, as a full and equal partner around the table, albeit recognising that it does not always currently feel like that.

Most of my activity over the last six weeks has involved talking with leaders across the country, understanding what we have achieved to date, and also appreciating the challenges. I have been enormously heartened by the welcome I’ve had from managers across the public and third sectors, and by the shared commitment to the need to improve collaboration in order to improve outcomes for children and families.

I am keen to generate dialogue with practitioners and managers across the sector, and I would welcome any immediate responses to the ideas in this blog. I’ll keep sharing information as this work progresses, and I would be keen to speak directly with any colleagues who wish to play an active role.

You can contact me at and I’ll be tweeting @BillAlexScot


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